Shortly after the East India Company made Lord Bentick Governor-General of Bengal in 1828, he tried to ban several Indian practices which did not appeal to Western sensibilities. They included sati, rigidity of caste system, polygamy and child marriages.
It was not easy to change what the civilised world without hesitation today would agree are social evils. Bentick had to take the support of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, one of the greatest social reformers of modern India. The intellectual supremacy that Bengalis have claimed for several decades over the average North Indian can be traced to Roy’s measures of integrating the best Indian practices with those of the west to trigger a Bengali, and to some extent, Indian renaissance.
However, long after the British had left India, but much before Shashi Tharoor ‘discovered’ that they had contributed zilch for India’s emergence as a modern state and ministers of the Union and states began discourse on the virtues of cow dung and started allocating funds for distilling cow urine, there was a controversy, in 1990, when Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar inducted a politician named Kalyan Singh Kalvi into his Cabinet. Kalvi was someone who shortly before becoming a minister was accused of glorifying sati after Roop Kanwar was burnt to death over her husband’s funeral pyre.
Months after Kanwar’s ‘voluntary act’ of 1987, and arrest of people who supposedly egged her on, the disconnect between urban and rural Northern India became very evident. While those in cities were aghast, those in rural areas glorified the act and built a temple for ‘Sati Mata’. However, the saving grace was that there was no educated person willing to defend sati in the name of Hindu faith. That is why Kalvi had to declare publicly that he had not and would not glorify sati.
Unfortunately, the clock seems to have been turned back today. We may showcase the Mars mission on a Rs 2000 currency note but the head of government in Uttar Pradesh is a priest who is not willing to give up his priestly duties even when he has little time to attend to his job as the state’s top executive. All kinds of people with weird notions and superstitious practices are with or without permission of the RSS-BJP acting as a link between the politicians and ‘Hindu religion.’
If Kanwar’s sati was highlighted by the English media to build up an outrage against it, today we have rating points seeking news channels inviting all kinds of people and encouraging them to make the weirdest and wildest accusations against the judiciary, political opponents of BJP or religious minorities. The more banal and sensational the arguments and the louder and more offensive the words, the better seem to be the TRPs. In other words, the state is allowing a set of profit-oriented news channel owners to take back the country to the dark ages.
Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had recently said that his Government had empowered Muslim women by allowing them to go for Haj without being accompanied by an adult male. What he did not tell us is how many women have asked for this facility. He also tried to keep away the fact that Saudi Arabia’s rules in any case do not allow a woman below 45 to arrive on its soil for Haj unless accompanied by a male adult. So how many women has Naqvi empowered? Yet, sections of the media played up this report as a major reform measure of the Modi Government.
Even better has been the case news channels have been trying to make of the Uniform Civil Code. The impression a normal viewer would have got was that the regressive Muslim practices were preventing Muslim women from having equal rights in India, despite it being a modern democracy. While this may be partly true in areas where the light of modern education has not reached, how many of us know that there are widely-prevalent regressive practices among Hindus that need urgent reform?
The Supreme Court on October 11 ruled that a man having sexual intercourse with his minor wife can be charged of raping her. My first reaction was about the contradiction in the words ‘minor wife’. I was of the impression that ban on child marriage has had its impact even in areas where Mohan Roy’s reforms could never reach. However, a little more research on the matter has revealed that India has more than 23 million child brides.
I knew this practice may have been happening surreptitiously in some rural areas. However that does not seem to be the case. Although Indian laws treat sex with wives below 15 years as rape, child marriage remains widespread in several parts of northern and western India.
Even more shocking it was to learn that the Law Commission — the body set up by the Union Government from time to time to recommend legislative changes for modernising the laws of the land — in its 172nd report recommended that exception be added in the rape law to make sexual intercourse by a man with his wife between 16-18 years permissible. This came after the Law commission in its 84th report, in1980, had recommended sex with a minor be treated as an offence to stop the practice of child marriage.
If we live in a society where child marriage is not so uncommon, should not that be the first social reform we should think of putting into practice before making loud noises about a uniform civil code? A uniform civil code is definitely necessary by including all civilised laws and after taking each community into confidence. Those who smugly claimed that Nehru had the gumption only to codify Hindu laws, and not Muslim laws, may first examine how many of these laws are actually practised by the Hindu brethren, for the simple reason that 102 crores out of a total 120 crore Indians are Hindus.
News portal ‘The Wire’ recently published a report based on filings with the Registrar of Companies. According to this data, the turnover of a company owned by Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of BJP National President Amit Shah, increased “16,000 times over” in 2015.
The report said the RoC data showed Jay Shah’s Temple Enterprise made small losses in 2013 and in 2014 but a profit of Rs 18,728, from Rs 50,000 earnings, in 2014-15. The earnings increased to Rs 80.5 crore in 2015-16. The company was wound up in mid-2016 despite jump in revenue the previous year. Sounds like boring statistics? Not for Jay Shah. He has filed a criminal defamation suit. I wonder why.
(Published on 16th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 42)