Ironically, India’s Mukhtaran Mai is a product of ‘secularism’
What passes for ‘secularism’ in India is largely political expediency. There is nothing surprising in the verdict by the religious conservatives of the madrassa at Deoband — the Taliban were its acolytes — that held that Imrana, a Muslim woman raped by her father-in-law, cannot continue conjugal living with her husband.
What is appalling is that India’s key political formations, those that carry the badge of secularism, have taken to hiding behind woolly excuses of ‘respect for religious leaders’ and ‘respect for personal law’. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the ‘secular’ chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, and Salman Khursheed, the Congress party representative have taken a shameful stand — shameful because it uses the very Constitution that ensures the rule-of-law to explain away a wanton miscarriage of justice. To their credit, India’s Communists have unequivocally condemned the case as a violation of human rights.
That such a miscarriage of justice has occurred in the minority Muslim community, whose special legal status in matters of personal law is controversial, is no reason to allow, tolerate or obfuscate it. On the contrary, India should take this all the more seriously — and demonstrate that the special provisions for its Muslim citizens does not license its fundamentalists to impose their perverse interpretations on the rest of the community. Some of India’s Islamic institutions are up in arms against the fatwa by the Deobandi scholars — it is shameful that instead of supporting the moderate mainstream in its battle against the obscurantists, India’s self-proclaimed guardians of secularism have sought to side with the dark side.
Yet the contrast with the Mukhtaran Mai case is stark: In Pakistan, fundamentalism and state-organised repression led to the harrassment of the rape victim. In India, secularism mixed with political opportunism is causing the executive part of the government to turn a blind eye to a brazen expression of fundamentalism. It may now fall upon India’s judiciary to rescue the republic’s secularism and sanity.