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WHO WILL HAVE SYMPATHY FOR THE RIGHTS OF JASHODABEN?
The Bhartiya Janata Party’s initiative against the triple talaq is laudable. The Muslim clergy’s position that it is an interference in internal matters of Muslim personal law is akin to a family accused of domestic violence claiming that it is their internal matter. Just as a woman cannot be allowed to suffer inside a home, Muslim women cannot be left at the mercy of their whimsical husbands. The truth is that whether Hindus or Muslims, the patriarchal society has not been kind to born and unborn girls. India’s sex ratio at 940 is very dismal compared to 997 of our neighbour Bangladesh indicating that female foeticide remains a massive problem. Child trafficking, forcing children into sex work and begging are widespread in India. These illegal activities take place in broad daylight. One wonders why triple talaq is being given priority over more serious problems like foeticide and child trafficking? Are people maintaining silence over these issues not as guilty as those responsible for committing these crimes?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has every right to be sympathetic to the Muslim women and raise the issue of injustice to them. Some Muslim women are quite happy that for the first time a Party and a PM is taking up their issue in such unequivocal terms. But just as the PM has a right to take up issues of Muslim women one has the right to raise the matter of Jashodaben who has to lead the life of a single woman for almost five decades now without even going through the process of formal divorce. In cannot be argued for reasons analogous to above mentioned that it is a personal matter. Moreover, in the United States, the personal life of a person doesn’t matter until he/she chooses to run for a public office. The citizens there want their Presidents to have sound family relationships. Any blemish, even from the past, can cost their candidacy.
Narendra Modi’s justification that he renounced family life for public service sounds specious. He may have left for sanyaas to Himalayas soon after his marriage but the truth is he came back and worked at his uncle’s business. What is now being projected as a sacrifice for public life can be construed as abandoning his family obligations from Jashodaben’s point of view. Narendra Modi has demonstrated that he is as prone to human weaknesses as ordinary folk by wearing for an expensive coat with his name inscribed and indulging in selfie taking with important international leaders during his visits abroad in the initial two years of his premiership. Obviously, the sacrifice of family life has not transcended him beyond worldly cravings. Moreover, Jashodaben has indicated that she still has emotions for Narendra Modi and would meet him at the right time. Between the two if anyone has made a sacrifice it is Jashodaben because she did not have control over the decision of separation. It was forced upon her. Narendra Modi can argue that the decision of marriage was forced upon him even when he was a child. But that is how most marriages still take place in India. Parents have a key role in deciding the match. The couple is expected to live up to the expectation of their parents and the society. Is it not Indian values?
Jashodaben filed application under Right to Information Act to know her rights, entitlements and copy of the order issued for her security, as the PM’s wife, but was denied all information. Interestingly, she kept writing her name as Jashodaben Narendrabhai Modi and officials continued to address her has Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, based on her father’s name. When she wanted to apply for a passport to go aborad on the invitation of some relatives, it was denied to her on the pretext that she failed to provide her marriage certificate or an affidavit from her husband. Was it not her husband’s responsibility when the matter was in public domain that she got the information that she sought as well as her passport? She was denied her rights even as an ordinary citizen. Who will stand up for the rights of Jashodaben? When a Doordarshan official tried to do so by broadcasting her comments he was transferred from Ahmedabad to Port Blair. Rather than be sympathetic to Jashodaben the government chose to be vindictive to an official who tried to help her. After all, she was not demanding big things. The government should do a course correction and still provide her what she wants.
Jashodaben has been compared with wife of Gautam Buddha, Yashodhara, wife of Tulsidas, Ratnavali, and Savitri, Sita and Shakuntla, women from Hindu mythology, who suffered for the sake of their husbands. We are not living in mythological times. Religion and mythology cannot be quoted to justify harsh decisions. Just as triple talaq cannot be justified in the name of Islam, similarly Narendra Modi’s decision of separation from Jashodaben doesn’t hold any ground.
The nation expects its PM to begin charity from home. He needs to acknowledge his mistake and start living with Jashodaben. In fact, he should also bring his mother to live with him. A happy family life, even at this late stage, can do no harm to his public life. If anything it may have some sobering effect over him. For example, maybe his wife can give a better advice for what now looks like an intractable problem in Kashmir.
Some women on women’s day in Varanasi have also demanded this and there have been voices from several other quarters that Narendra Modi should reconsider his relationship with Jashodaben. Otherwise all his public sympathy for Muslim women will not be considered genuine. The nation expects its PM to be honest with himself and live the ideals that he is talking about. Who’ll believe that a man so hardened against his own wife, for no fault of her’s, has any sympathy for other victimised women?
By Sandeep Pandey
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