Triple talaq: India top court reviews Islamic instant divorce – BBC News

For those enamoured by the word pluralism, one used often to describe India, this is what it can mean.

Pluralism, like multiculturalism and interculturalism, can either be ‘deep,’ with separate institutions and family law, or ‘shallow,’ where religious and other community rights are balanced against other rights such as gender.

Canadian commentators who jump upon negative foreign commentary on multiculturalism need to understand clearly that multiculturalism in Canada is based upon civic integration, with individual religious rights subject to the other fundamental freedoms and equality.

Will be interesting to see how the Indian Supreme Court rules:

India’s Supreme Court has formally opened hearings into a number of petitions challenging the controversial practice of instant divorce in Islam.

The court said it would examine whether the practice known as “triple talaq” was fundamental to the religion.

India is one of a handful of countries in the world where a Muslim man can divorce his wife in minutes by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times.

But activists say the practice is “discriminatory”.

Many Muslim groups have opposed the court’s intervention in their religious matters, although the move has the backing of the current Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The sensitive issue is being heard by a multi-faith bench made up of five judges – a Hindu, a Sikh, a Christian, a Zoroastrian and one Muslim.

The bench has combined several petitions from Muslim women and rights groups into one to examine the issue.

The opposing sides have been given three days each to argue their cases, with the court saying the hearing will end by 19 May.

A judgement is expected to be delivered in the coming weeks.

The Indian government has told the court that triple talaq is unconstitutional, against gender justice and the dignity of women.

Muslim organisations that support the practice say it’s an issue of faith and personal law, and the courts have no role in reviewing it.

For years now, Muslim women in India have been demanding a ban on a practice they view as reprehensible.

Campaigners say over the years, thousands of women, especially those from poor families, have been discarded by their husbands, many have been rendered destitute with nowhere to go and many have been forced to return to their parental homes or fend for themselves.

Muslims are India’s largest minority community with a population of 155 million and their marriages and divorces are governed by the Muslim personal law, ostensibly based on Sharia, or Islamic law.

The law came into force in 1937 and lays out that, in matters of personal dispute, the state shall not interfere.

Source: Triple talaq: India top court reviews Islamic instant divorce – BBC News

Multiculturalism in Sweden: an Indian’s perspective – The Local

Interesting piece by Joy Merwin Monteiro, a climate scientist, currently working as a post doc at Stockholm University [Indian multiculturalism or pluralism is “deep” with greater emphasis on communal rights]:

Why India? Well, one can provide any number of reasons, but I would prefer to make my point by way of examples from Indian history. Due to its geographical location at the centre of the Indian Ocean and its fabled wealth, India has attracted immigrants for millennia, as traders, conquerors and refugees. We have had Jewish refugee communities fleeing from Portugal and Spain, Zoroastrians fleeing the Islamisation of Iran, Buddhists (including the Dalai Lama) fleeing the annexation of Tibet and Muslimrefugees from Iran.

Communities of ChineseEast Africans and Armenians have lived in India for centuries. The above list does not even include the conquering peoples of Central Asian and Turkicorigin, followed by the more recent colonisation by European powers. In contemporary times, India has become a preferred destination for those I would term “spiritual refugees“. In terms of actual numbers, these communities may be small, but their influence in Indian society has been disproportionately large: To this day, the economic and cultural achievement of some of the communities listed above is a source of envy and respect for other Indians. Note that here I have not even considered the huge internal diversity within India, with its various communities, castes and creeds, which in itself is a daunting subject to explore.

So, do these various immigrant communities maintain their distinct identity? Yes, very proudly. Do they tend to live in areas dominated by their own kind? All the time. Do they marry outside their community? Hardly, if ever. Do they consider themselves Indians? Very much! To the Western observer, steeped in the notion of “one people, one state” – a modern notion, even in Europe: there are vineyards that predate the concept of the Nation-State by a century or two  – it must seem incredible that India can function as a modern democracy without much in terms of shared culture and values. In fact, most observers expected the Idea of India to collapse without British “stewardship”; Today, no one would dispute the fact that India is one of the most robust and politically energetic democracies to emerge from the ruins of the Second World War.

It is true however that almost all communities in India, immigrant or not, are wary of each other, and most don’t even like each other. However, they need each other to go about their daily life – most Hindus would prefer a Muslim butcher or mechanic over someone from their own community, I would bet my money on a Parsi businessman, and everyone wants to send their children to a Jesuit run school. You don’t have to like each other to respect each other; you don’t even have to respect each other to tolerate each other. If there is any such thing as a universal shared value in the hodge-podge of nations that make up India, it is tolerance. We even tolerate things that we should not – corruption, poverty and exploitation being prime examples. To my mind, these two aspects of Indian society – a dense network of interdependencies, and tolerance towards values utterly foreign to you – have not only kept us ticking, but have also provided the political stability required to build one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Joy Merwin Monteiro, the author of this opinion piece. Photo: Private

There are two ways to integrate an immigrant: The American “Melting Pot” way, where the immigrant is expected to lose her personal value system in deference to the larger national value system, however defined, or the Indian “Mosaic” way, which allows her to retain her values, which adds to the larger set of national values, while emphasising tolerance as a way towards social stability. The “Mosaic” way was probably best summarised by M K Gandhi:

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

These are troubled times in the world. Troubled times are also revelatory, since they provide us with an opportunity to look deep within, and decide who we really are. Sweden has been exemplary in its handling of environmental and humanistic issues; I wish the Swedes all the best in their journey ahead towards becoming a truly multi-cultural society.

Source: Multiculturalism in Sweden: an Indian’s perspective – The Local

The Trouble With India’s New Citizenship Bill | The Diplomat

Look forward to some comments from those more familiar with India and Indian politics than I:

Granting citizenship to Hindu refugees and making India “a natural home for persecuted Hindus” were among the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his election manifesto. Modi, in a 2014 election rally, specifically promised citizenship to Hindu-Bangladeshis, saying that they would be removed from the migrant camps. Since then, the current government has taken many steps which may seem majoritarian and anti-Muslim.

Against this backdrop, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seems to be aimed toward making India a haven for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. A closer look at the provisions indicates that the current government is attempting to increase its Hindu voter count. The BJP government’s website about Hindutva ideology clearly draws from Israel’s law of return and aims to do the same for Hindus in India. This policy in the Indian context would be contrary to the ideals of secularism and pluralism and thus unconstitutional.

The provisions of the bill would affect over 200,000 Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh and their migration into the border states of India would change the voter demographics in the region. The BJP government came to power in Assam in 2016, for the first time in 15 years, by using the agenda of ending illegal migration from Bangladesh. According to the Census of India (2011), 34.2 percent of Assam’s population is Muslim and the census shows that there has been a 4 percent rise in Muslim population over the past five years. The BJP government used the data as the basis of their campaign to gain votes in the region. If the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed, in its current form, then the border regions would face an influx of Hindu migrants, which would change the voter demographics in the region.

The bill aims to save religious minorities from violence and blasphemy laws in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The rationale for selecting just these three countries, which are Muslim-dominated countries, is a cause for concern. The bill at first glance seems like a humanitarian effort to help persecuted minorities but it only seeks to help Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from the neighboring Muslim countries. Muslim minority communities facing oppression in other countries have been completely ignored. If the bill was really an attempt to provide a safe haven for minorities facing violence in their countries then it should also offer the same provisions to the minority Muslim communities in China and Myanmar as well. The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Uyghur Muslims in China, and the Ahmaddiya Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh have been facing persecution for years. Further, Myanmar’s Hindus have also been ignored in the bill.

India is not a signatory of the United Nation Refugee Convention; therefore it is not required to provide safe haven to people seeking asylum from persecution in other countries. No attempts have been made by the government to debate the issue of joining the United Nation Refugee Convention. That would have been the natural step to take if the government was indeed interested in formulating a humanitarian refugee policy. Further, the provisions of refugee protection cater to all minorities fleeing countries due to a humanitarian crisis but, in this bill, India is offering citizenship based on religious predilections. The bill, if passed in its current form, seeks to give preference to Hindu refugees over Muslim refugees migrating to India, which is unconstitutional as, the preamble of the Constitution confirms India as a secular state.

The refugees who will actually benefit from this policy are living in abject poverty with no sanitation and infrastructure facilities. The government, instead of using a blanket refugee policy, has made this a communal issue with a veiled political agenda, which would be counterproductive to the seemingly humanitarian goal of the bill.

A member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, revealed in the National Assembly that around 5,000 Hindus migrate from Pakistan to India every year. In 2015, the BJP government approved citizenship for 4,230 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan who sought refuge in India. The BJP had earlier claimed that they had granted Indian citizenship to 4,300 Pakistani nationals during 2014-15. However, a response to a query filed under the Right to Information by Seemant Lok Sanghthan showed that only 289 Pakistani Hindus were granted Indian citizenship in this period. This furthers the argument that the BJP’s political agenda supersedes its humanitarian goals.

It is also interesting to note that BJP’s stance on refugees has completely turned around in the last decade. In 2003 when 213 “Bangladeshi citizens” were stranded in the no man’s land between India and Bangladesh, neither country accepted them. Yet the BJP, in 2014, declared itself as a “natural home for persecuted Indians” and extended long-term visas in various states and provided citizenship to Hindus from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The constant emphasis on granting refuge on the basis of religion is in keeping with the Hindutva ideology popularly advocated by the current government.

The bill, if passed and made into an act, could be challenged and struck down by the judiciary later because of its unconstitutional nature — the provisions go against the secularism enshrined under the preamble. The government’s stance of helping refugees only if they fall under the category of persecuted religious minorities is heavily biased.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 may be presented as a move to protect the religious minorities in other countries from being persecuted but, the underlying issue clear: the bill is meant to address the BJP’s stated objective of making India the “Hindu Homeland.” The provisions blatantly ignore Muslims in the protection clauses and mention only religious minorities in Muslim-dominated countries. Further, the bill will change the demographics of the border states. The Bill adds to an ominous trend of a government which is not afraid of pushing a religious ideology, even when it is in contravention of the Constitution, in order to further its own political agenda.

Source: The Trouble With India’s New Citizenship Bill | The Diplomat

India: Opposition, NGOs slam move to amend Citizenship Act – The Hindu

Indian citizenship debates and religious preference:

The Bill has been criticised by the Opposition, which has accused the government of granting citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries on “religious lines” and wooing the majority Hindu community.

To change definition

With this amendment, the government plans to change the definition of “illegal migrants” that will enable it to grant citizenship to minorities, mostly Hindus from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who fled their countries fearing religious persecution. The Bill creates an exception for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and plans to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July.

A joint parliamentary panel, which is examining the Bill, heard petitions from several NGOs on Thursday.

 One of the NGOs from Assam demanded that the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay be waived for all Hindus and that they be immediately included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC is being updated in Assam to weed out illegal migrants who came to Assam post the 1971 war when Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistan. The cut-off date for the NRC is midnight of March 24, 1971, and all those who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh before this period would get Indian citizenship as per the Assam Accord signed in 1985.

Another NGO from Rajasthan also demanded that Hindus be exempted from the naturalisation process.

At the meeting, parliamentarians said the government was amending the Act to appease the Hindu community as the people who would be benefited the most would be Hindus from neighbouring countries.

Source: Opposition, NGOs slam move to amend Citizenship Act – The Hindu

India’s Debate on Citizenship Continues

Of interest:

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 outlined the ways in which individuals may acquire citizenship in India and specifically denies it to undocumented migrants. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 attempts to remedy this but does so peculiarly. It looks into granting Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan citizenship after 6 years of residence in India (as opposed to 11 years, as is the status quo) even without documentation. The Bill draft has been made available online and a Joint Parliamentary Commission with members of both parliamentary houses is examining it — and was open for comments until September 30.

Public discussion about the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 follows two lines. First it has been criticized for delineating citizenship on purely religious lines. Although this is not new in a country like India, which was partitioned along religious lines, in this case the bill allows citizenship to undocumented migrants from most major Indian religious groups except for Muslims, at about half the duration currently required. In so many ways, this brings to mind the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign promise of providing a ‘natural home’ for Hindus in India as this policy is mostly directed towards Hindus from these countries.After facing the kind of opposition that resulted in the deputation of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, government officials attempted to clarify accusations of religious discrimination. They discussed a plan to change the term “religious minorities” in the Bill to “discriminated religious minorities.” However that still does not encompass discriminated Islamic minorities like the Ahmadiyya populations in Pakistan, who will not qualify for Indian citizenship under the relaxed rules should they migrate.

Activists in New Delhi held a protest rally on September 30 to decry this Bill, calling it communally motivated. Activist Kavita Krishnan, for instance, declared that the government needed to remember that India was not, in fact, a Hindu state and could not therefore provide a right of return to populations. They also questioned the need for singling out these specific categories of people, ignoring the persecution of several other groups – like atheists within these nations or potential climate refugees.


Women, Multiculturalism And Identity Politics – Eurasia Review

Interesting commentary on the intersection between religious/cultural traditions and women’s rights from the perspective of Indian sociologist Adfar Shah:

Although in some cases, state bodies make efforts to consult with the community in question but too often these overtures have a token quality to them and do not help to build lasting political trust. A minority community’s confidence in state-led reforms of their cultural arrangements is diminished still further when racism is pervasive in the broader social, economic, and political institutions. However, all the multicultural traditions are not beset to such complexities as the state and society has gradually absorbed the art of accommodation for all though not without exceptions and aberrations. Multiculturalism today is a reality in almost every nation however simultaneously it is equally true that most of the traditional cultures have historically oppressed women. Therefore, governments bear the burden of formulating policies that protect women’s rights within a multicultural framework.

There has to be a rethink on overall gender justice perspectives and policies at place though in the contemporary era there is a democratic tradition and a general commitment to protect the individual’s civil and political rights everywhere. Not just this but the followers of multiculturalism ideology should pursue feminist and gender-based alignments within cultural practices so that the society can realize the constitutional goals of universal equality, gender equality and justice. Women though many a time are victims of the personal laws but are always motivated by vested interests to follow community codes rather than work for their own emancipation and that is why we are still yet to have a common women’s movement.

Even history is testimony to the fact that women are not just victims in times of riots but also assist their men to perpetuate violence on other women or groups (Surat Riots). The case of ‘saying no to the second marriage’ does not apply only to Muslim women but any women on the globe have the inherent tendency for this choice. Personal laws/moral brigade/community laws must be paid attention unless and until they don’t compromise an individual’s basic human rights and women have to realise that acting as an agency of patriarchy and exercise power on other women is not their actual power but the biggest impediment to a united and successful women’s movement. Let us at least not justify rapes by people merely as political conspiracies (Azam Khan’s recent comments on rape comment) mistakes or link even molestations with dress code of women or favour community policing or so called moral brigades by linking to religions. Yesterday only in the Muslim dominated Kashmir valley, posters from some militant organisation were discovered giving an open threat to Kashmiri Pandits (Kashmiri non-Muslims) to leave the valley or be ready to die.

Source: Women, Multiculturalism And Identity Politics — A Perspective – Eurasia Review

Ahmadiyyas find place as Islam sect in census | The Indian Express


The Ahmadiyyas, one of the most persecuted sects in the Muslim community, have finally managed find a place in India as a sect of Islam in the 2011 census. With a large section of Muslim clerics deeming the community to be heretics, successive governments in previous years had refrained from including them as a sect of Islam in the census report. This happened despite successive High Court judgments upholding their legal status as Muslims.

The community, which was recently lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for its “religious tolerance and universal brotherhood”, has found its name included in the “Details of Sects/Religions clubbed under specific religious community” data released by the government last week. In earlier census reports, only Sunnis, Shias, Bohras and Agakhanis were identified as sects of Islam.

Conservative estimates of the community’s population in India, which originated in Qadiyan in Punjab, is pegged at 1 lakh. “It is a welcome move by the government,” said Mahmood Ahmed, former president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Mumbai.

The sect’s origins lie in Qadian in Punjab. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founded the movement in 1889. Rejecting orthodox Muslim beliefs, he preached that he was the promised messiah with the divinely inspired task of bringing God’s teaching into harmony with the present-day world. He said he was the messiah whose advent was awaited by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, as well as the incarnation of Krishna.
Since its inception, the sect has been opposed by hardline Muslim clerics. This opposition culminated in a constitutional amendment in 1974 in Pakistan, declaring the Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslims in the eyes of law. Soon after, there was widespread violence and persecution against the community in Pakistan.

Source: Ahmadiyyas find place as Islam sect in census | The Indian Express

India’s Extremists Turn on Left-Wing College Kids – The Daily Beast

Hindu extremism:

Change is inevitable. Change is constant. The world is changing, and so is India. But ever since The Donald Trump of India, aka Narendra Modi, and his militant right-wing Hindutva Party came to power, India is fast becoming a nightmare for its women and minorities, its Dalits and Harijans, its LGBT community, and yes, all lovers of good medium-rare steaks and juicy burgers.

There are scholars who will argue that the self-proclaimed “benign land of gentle chants and a thousand ‘Namaste’” has always been excessively hostile and extremely violent to the non-conforming.  History shows that India’s ruling elite more or less eradicated its Buddhist population (Indian folk lore often claims that they merely tricked the Buddhists into converting). Nonetheless, the division of the former Indus Valley Civilization, the formation of modern India, was on a pledge of plurality and on secular values. The Indian National Flag is tricolored, emphasizing its inclusiveness of all peoples and faiths. Therefore the accelerated return to the unbearable intolerance of alternative views and liberal values is disturbing.

For Kanhaiya Kumar, the student body president at Jawaharlal Nehru University, February 9, 2016 started perhaps like any other. But later that day he made a fatal mistake, in a speech at a protest rally at JNU—India’s Berkeley—wherein he criticized Modi and the Hindutva party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Three days after his speech, Kanhaiya was arrested on charges of sedition. While being escorted by the police to the court, he was attacked and beaten up twice, according to Indian media—initially by a mob of lawyers, and then again a second time by a ‘man in dark glasses’ when he was being kept in a room at the court before the hearing. Later, Kumar was refused bail.

I understand that some might wonder how a person, under the watchful eye of the media and heavy police escort, can get beaten up on court premises. Well, please keep in mind that this is India; strange things always occur at Indian courts. On Dec 6, 1992, the Hindutva thugs demolished the Babri Mosque in the town of Ayodhya, on grounds that it stood on the exact spot where an Indian God, Ram, was born. The Supreme Court, while acknowledging the lack of evidence that the mosque stood on the spot where Ram was born—and while also acknowledging that there were multiple other locations in the town of Ayodhya with superior claims, let alone multiple other towns in India that had better claims as Ram’s birthplace than Ayodhya—still ruled in favor of the Hindutva position. Given the state of Indian courts, the two back-to-back beatings that Kanhaiya received is just par for the course. To an outsider this might appear bizarre, but to people in India, this is simply expected.

Source: India’s Extremists Turn on Left-Wing College Kids – The Daily Beast

India trip provides lessons learned, all around: Cohn

Good piece abound the visit by Premier Wynne’s visit to Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the spiritual centre of Sikhdom, and the controversy it provoked:

As for Wynne, her visit to the Golden Temple proved anti-climactic. Despite the media speculation, she received the traditional gift of a siropa robe of honour — though the deed was done, diplomatically, in the basement (as opposed to the sanctum sanctorum, minimizing any awkwardness for the temple’s current leadership, who remained publicly coy on precisely how and by whom the honour was bestowed).

Lest anyone be too judgmental of the public coyness of Golden Temple officials — and their subsequent circumlocutions about Wynne’s circumambulations — one must concede that homophobia is nothing new, whether in the West or the East. Coincidentally, India’s Supreme Court is now revisiting antiquated laws on homosexuality inherited (and imported) from British colonial rule. Canada phased out discrimination against gay marriage only in 2005, and American states are just now catching up.

The lesson for politicians making the pilgrimage to Punjab is that it can sometimes be a delicate dance. You may walk into trouble, as Wynne nearly did, or you may wrong-foot yourself, as Brown might have (until his recent circumspection on sexual orientation).

Good for Wynne for standing her ground, without trampling on local sensitivities. Good for Brown for belatedly standing up against homophobia, after previously stooping to the level of local homophobes and gay-baiters who hyperbolized the sex-ed update.

Lessons learned, one hopes, all around.

Source: India trip provides lessons learned, all around: Cohn | Toronto Star

India, France and Secularism – The New York Times

Interesting comparison between Indian and French secularism by Sylvie Kauffmann:

Hindu fundamentalists have a more radical view of beef consumption and the slaughtering of cows. Some states, like Maharashtra, have banned the sale of beef, and calls for a national beef ban are growing. The fact that Muslims and Christians are traditional beef eaters is not an obstacle. The B.J.P.’s Tarun Vijay, expressing a more stringent interpretation of secularism on the opinion website Daily 0, sees “beef eating as a challenge to India, its public display as an act of bravado,” adding, “It is a political act that has nothing to do with culinary practice or religion.”

In both countries Muslim minorities complain about discrimination — and with reason. But while many French Muslims, who make up about 7.5 percent of the population, feel targeted by “laïcité,” Indian Muslims see secularism as their best protection. One important difference is that radicalization is an almost nonexistent phenomenon in Indian Islam, while it is a dangerous (but limited) trend among European Muslims. Only 30 Indian citizens are known to have joined the Islamic State so far, out of 176 million Muslims; in France, the number of home-grown jihadists is close to 2,000, out of 4 to 5 million. So while in France, fundamentalism comes from the Muslim minority, in India it comes from the Hindu majority.

India has been home to Muslims since the 8th century; Mughals ruled most of India and Pakistan 400 years ago. In contrast, Islam’s implantation in Europe is only a few decades old; France’s law on laïcité predates their arrival. Today, as minorities, Muslims feel vulnerable. In France, the January terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket deepened the malaise, as many Muslims stayed away from the #JeSuisCharlie movement. When 4 million French people took to the streets in support of freedom of expression right after the attacks, they assumed that French Muslims would make a point to be part of this show of unity. Only a small number did. For many of those who did not show up, laïcité has gone too far. Allowing cartoonists to make fun of religious figures, including their Prophet, may be a French tradition; it is not their idea of secularism.

In India, the threat against secularism goes even deeper, down to the values dear to its founding fathers, Gandhi and Nehru. “This is an India which is crying out for a Mahatma who puts compassion and tolerance above all else,” wrote the well-known journalist Rajdeep Sardesai after the recent attacks. An India that could rally behind #JeSuisIkhlaq.

Source: India, France and Secularism – The New York Times