Monday, October 15, 2001, Chandigarh, India




E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

A tainted Pak trust
T
HESE are difficult days for Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf. The latest is very embarrassing for the General who is trying to reinvent himself as a great fighter against terrorism. The USA says that a charitable trust he is very closely associated with is a source of funds for the Al-Qaeda operations, a code word for terrorist activities. General Musharraf is not a mere member but the patron and president of the outfit.

The UN and the Nobel
T
HE Nobel Prize for Peace has gone this year to an organisation and an individual — treating them either as complementary to each other or as two entities engaged in a similar or the same task. Shared prizes generally give this impression — like the Nobels in the fields of science and human development. The two awardees, says the selection committee, have been chosen “for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world.”


EARLIER ARTICLES

Combating proxy war: India can do it
October 14
, 2001
A scuttled initiative
October 13
, 2001
Complete isolation of Taliban
October 12
, 2001
War impact on economy
October 11
, 2001
Testing time for Musharraf
October 10
, 2001
Air raid on Afghanistan
October 9
, 2001
Blair’s blank words
October 8
, 2001
Concerted global effort needed to combat terrorism
October 7
, 2001
Hijack drama
October 6
, 2001
Saving the Taj
October 5
, 2001
After Taliban what?
October 4
, 2001
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
OPINION

Wages of a subaltern policy
US-Pak tie-up should open our eyes
Sumer Kaul
I
T is just a matter of time before the awesome lethality of America’s war machine turns much of Afghanistan into rubble, many of its people into dust and most of Taliban into history. So, will the world have got rid of terrorism? Will this so-called “global war against terrorists and those who harbour them” have succeeded in burying “the evil”? Will there be no fedayeen attacks ever again in America? Most important for us, will blood cease to spill and flow in Kashmir?

Exposing Blair and engaging America
M. L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur
T
HE central issues before Indian diplomacy now flow from the statement of British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Pakistan had a valid interest in Afghanistan. This statement has far-reaching consequences for the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The statement and the strategy behind it has several major and dangerous dimensions. The first is to deny the Northern Alliance access to Kabul. There is a historical precedent for this. Britain delayed the liberation of Prague by General Patton and facilitated instead the domination of Czechoslovakia by Russian troops at the end of World War II.

TRENDS & POINTERS

Genius kids who did the country proud
A
NY person observing Preet and Nilesh indulge in the banter of youth wouldn’t notice anything special about the duo. But these very boys, who talk about their college exams or girlfriends, were among 17 youngsters who did the country proud when they matched their wits against the world’s best and went on to win medals at the International Science Olympiad.

POINT OF LAW

Supreme Court on secularisation and Shah Bano II
Anupam Gupta
E
VEN as Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was bestowed the Nobel Prize last week ostensibly for literary excellence but essentially for reviling against Islam, a five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, wielding the secular broom, turned law upside down on September 28 in Daniel Latifi’s case alias Shah Bano II.



SPIRITUAL NUGGETS



Top





 

A tainted Pak trust

THESE are difficult days for Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf. The latest is very embarrassing for the General who is trying to reinvent himself as a great fighter against terrorism. The USA says that a charitable trust he is very closely associated with is a source of funds for the Al-Qaeda operations, a code word for terrorist activities. General Musharraf is not a mere member but the patron and president of the outfit. Its name is Rabita al-Alam al-Islam, founded by a man who is also a founder member of the dreaded Al-Qaeda, now suspected to be controlled by Osama bin Laden and the mastermind behind the September 11 outrage. This is not all. Rabita’s bank deposits have been frozen in the USA and the Bush Administration gave an advance warning to the Pakistan General to give up his Rabita connection before the formal ban came. He duly resigned in what his people will see as acting obediently on an American order. Rabita claims that it has been in existence for at least three decades, helping Urdu-speaking Bihari citizens of Bangladesh to settle down in Pakistan. That is obviously a cover and during the last 20 years the money has been funneled to start and sustain terrorist activities.

This is the second, and maybe the third, expose of the Pakistan military establishment’s role in bankrolling terrorist activities in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. The first was Lieut-Gen Mahmood Ahmed’s part in transferring $ 100,000 to a terrorist who took part in the September 11 destruction of the World Trade Center. He was no ordinary General but the head of the powerful ISI. His removal last week confirmed his guilt, whatever President Musharraf may say. Everyone knows that the Pakistan army is neck-deep in fomenting mindless violence in the Kashmir valley but when actions prove it, it is awkward. It is now clear that the top echelons of the army is involved in supporting terrorism with money, arms and logistics. The mysterious fire in the army headquarters is equally revealing. The fire destroyed the training and administrative directorates, reducing the vital files to ashes but miraculously saving the operations directorate. The result is that there are no records of the country’s participation in the Afghan warfare against the Soviet intrusion and how the guerrilla fighting was funded. It may be a coincidence but still a very suspicious one.
Top

 

The UN and the Nobel

THE Nobel Prize for Peace has gone this year to an organisation and an individual — treating them either as complementary to each other or as two entities engaged in a similar or the same task. Shared prizes generally give this impression — like the Nobels in the fields of science and human development. The two awardees, says the selection committee, have been chosen “for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world.” Verily, these are “times of transition” but the comparative component in the citation — “the end of the Cold War has at last made it possible for the UN to perform more fully the part it was originally intended to play” — springs a question mark on the stated role of the UN in the wake of the first war of the twenty-first century which has globally destructive ramifications. Peace is in peril. The world is hearing deafening tumult and expecting more destruction in the zone of conflict and greater destabilisation and misery at any time or in any place on our planet. The pre-1991 period engaged the UN in the serious business of conflict-prevention and containment of inspired disasters. A few members of the UN staff are killed in an American air-strike in Afghanistan, for instance, and UN humanitarian activities come to a grinding halt now. What can be more disappointing, against the spirit of the Nobel citation and contrary to the letter of the UN Charter? The peoples of the UN are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war..., to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights of all nations large and small.... The servile subjugation of a terrorist state is rewarded with superpower support. This is not quite exemplary in the context of the Peace Prize, howsoever fragmented it may be. Former US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was no visionary but what has been stated by contemporaries quoting him is worth remembering: The UN could go very quickly the League of Nations way. How noble is the Nobel today?

Mr Kofi Annan has been honoured for devoting almost his entire working life to the UN and bringing “new life” to the world body. Specifically, the accolade for him has come for “clearly underlining the UN’s traditional responsibility for peace and security and emphasising its obligations with regard to human rights”. How true! The man who figuratively stands on a high pedestal in the hall of fame with persons like Ralf J. Bunche, Albert Schweitzer, Albert Luthili, Dag Hammarskjold, Anwar Sadat, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Aung San Suu Kyi — to name a few of the Peace laureates — is credited with making the USA pay its dues to the UN and “exercise restraint” in dealing with Iraq’s ruler Saddam Hussein. His role in the unending fight against HIV and AIDS has also been praised. One, however, wishes that he would rise to “the challenge of international terrorism” and meet the need of bringing about a more efficient utilisation of the UN’s modest resources”. The Nobel Committee has chosen him for glorification. It is for him to sit up on a Friday (most of the good things from birth to elevations and award-winning have happened to him on this day) and think how he would preserve the faith so vividly reposed in him in indeterminate ways and amidst treacherous days.
Top

 

Wages of a subaltern policy
US-Pak tie-up should open our eyes
Sumer Kaul

IT is just a matter of time before the awesome lethality of America’s war machine turns much of Afghanistan into rubble, many of its people into dust and most of Taliban into history. So, will the world have got rid of terrorism? Will this so-called “global war against terrorists and those who harbour them” have succeeded in burying “the evil”? Will there be no fedayeen attacks ever again in America? Most important for us, will blood cease to spill and flow in Kashmir?

Those who answer these questions in the affirmative are either self-delusionists of the American Rambo variety or wishful thinkers of the Indian timid variety. It won’t be long before both are jolted back to reality. What the American action in Afghanistan will achieve is not a “victory against terrorism for the civilised world” but an essentially localised revenge for the September 11 attacks. And to achieve this “triumph” they are using and will use all their formidable might — for the Afghans to suffer and the rest of the world to see and cower. There is something tragi-comic about the world’s mightiest power pouncing with all its technological manhood on one of the smallest and poorest nations on earth.

So, what is new? An honest glance at the history of American policies and actions will reveal a long catalogue, on the one hand, of creating tyrannical regime (like, yes, the Taliban!) and supporting dictatorships (as in Pakistan, from Ayub to Musharraf) and, on the other hand, visiting death and destruction on vast populations. Not to go farther back in time, “in the past half a century particularly”, the USA has “extended its resort to force throughout much of the world, causing a colossal number of victims” — in Japan, in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Central and South America, in Iraq.

The words quoted above are those of a respected American intellectual, Noam Chomsky. “If the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled”, he said in a recent interview. I have no doubt that vast numbers of Americans are appalled, as evidenced in the massive demonstrations during the Vietnam war, as evidenced by the current protests against the bombing of Afghanistan even in the post-September 11 national mood of jingoism and xenophobia whipped up by the Bush administration’s “dead or alive”, “with us or with them” rhetoric.

In saying all this my purpose is not to oppose the American action. As citizen of a country which has been on the receiving end of terrorism for so many years, much of it traceable to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, I welcome action to get rid of the maniacal Taliban and its machiavellian protege. But this is not reason enough to hail every US action and utterance and all its stark acts of omission and commission, as some of our government leaders are doing. We must see the American response in its proper perspective.

The most obvious thing to note are the blinkers the Bush administration has put on its fight against terrorism. Contrary to its hypocritical protestations, in Washington’s eyes there indeed are good terrorists and bad terrorists. And while democracy is great, dictatorships are better. Hence the renewed love affair with the military regime in Pakistan — and the sidelining of India.

This hurts our interests. It hurts our fight against terrorism. But this treatment was only to be expected once we decided to put all our eggs in the American basket and gave up even the semblance of independent thinking, let alone independent action. Unfortunately, such is the calcification of our politics, the preoccupation of our politicians and parties with themselves, the bankruptcy of our intelligentsia that we have come to not only take major slights in our stride but also accept as reality the myths propagated by our policy-makers.

“The qualitative transformation in Indo-US relations is beyond recognition”, says our Foreign and Defence Minister. The two countries are not only closer than they have ever been but are now really close, says Mr Jaswant Singh. Taken in by this boast was the Prime Minister himself. Recall Mr Vajpayee’s grandiose statement the day after September 11: “India and America will jointly lead the global war against terrorism”. Such is the innocence of this government that it really believed that having tasted the bitter pill itself, the USA would now not only fully appreciate India’s position on Pakistani terrorism but would also actually join hands with us to combat and defeat it — in PoK and Pakistan itself as well as in Afghanistan!

What actually followed is there for all to see. Far from treating Pakistan as the problem, the Americans have co-opted it as an ally against one Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts! This is a deliberate decision, not one born out of ignorance of facts. As an eminent American columnist, Jim Hoagland, pointed out, “Washington knows full well that Pakistan actively supports Jaish-e-Muhammed and other guerrilla organisations ... members of these groups freely tell Western journalists that they have trained in camps in Afghanistan run by Pakistani intelligence services and then been deployed into Kashmir. These terrorists are creatures of Musharraf and the Taliban and soulmates of Osama bin Laden.”

That the Bush administration has chosen to ignore these facts should have opened our eyes to Washington’s double standards, the hypocrisy of its resolve to fight terrorists and those who harbour them, wherever, whoever. But even this blow has not deterred us from clinging to Washington’s apron-strings. The Jaish-e-Muhammed terrorists blow up the Kashmir assembly and our Prime Minister implores President Bush to kindly take note and do something about it. To cockle the hearts of his admirers he throws in a line about India’s patience not being unlimited, etc, and this is seen as India getting tough at last!

More than 53,000 deaths at the hands of Pakistan-organised terrorists, the Kargil invasion, the hijacking of an Indian plane and murder of an Indian on board, the continuing killings in Kashmir — and we say our patience is not unlimited? We are bluffing no one by this hollow rhetoric — not Pakistan, not the terrorists and certainly not the Americans. The USA particularly knows that, given the subaltern attitude we have adopted towards it, we will not move an inch without their approval and that we will be quite happy with periodical verbal sops, such as the Defence Secretary using the word “terror” for the attack on the J&K Assembly, and not “violence” as they have been calling such acts in the past! This seems to have been the principal achievement of Mr Jaswant Singh’s recent pilgrimage to Washington. For the rest, in Washington and the three other western capitals he visited, all we got is the proverbial lip service. And Mr Jaswant Singh says he is “very satisfied”. I suppose he is thrilled (beyond recognition!) now when JeM is banned!

How much longer must we go on missing the wood for the trees? Banning this or that terrorist outfit will not end our problem in Kashmir; they will simply take on other names, as they have in the past. Anti-India terrorism will end only when the military-mullah complex in Pakistan is smashed. And this is not about to happen. In fact, given America’s active cohabitation with Pakistan, an escalation in the latter’s bloody actions against India is on the cards.

The world may or may not have changed after September 11, nothing has changed for India. Nor, let us understand, have there been any changes for the better in the basic mindsets in Washington and Islamabad. The USA will continue to side with dictators and devils so long as that serves its interests, and the powers-that-be in Pakistan will continue to trouble us in order to survive and thrive. In the event, what we ought to do is to change our mindset. We should forthwith stop appeasing Washington and whining on its shoulders. We should take an honest stock of our disastrous foreign policy, and devise a condign strategy to counter Pakistan’s terrorist apparatus and the wily “President Gen Pervez Musharraf Saheb” (as Jaswant Singh refers to him).

The Prime Minister told Mr Bush that we don’t want to “overburden the agenda”. There is no “the” agenda. There is an American agenda: to avenge the terrorist strikes of September 11 (and in the process give a fillip to its armament industry and demonstrate to the world that it is the Boss). Likewise, there should be an Indian agenda: to end anti-India terrorism and establish peace in the region. To fulfil this agenda we have to go all out against the terrorists and their supporters in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, and at the same time pay their mentors in their own coin in their own territory.

It will not be a short haul, but let us not make it longer than it need be by continuing to delay and dither. If this “complicates the challenge the USA has to meet” (Mr Jaswant Singh’s consuming worry, as expressed in his interview to the CNN), so be it. There comes a time in the life of every nation when it should stand up and defend itself. For India, that time is now.
Top

 

Exposing Blair and engaging America
M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur

THE central issues before Indian diplomacy now flow from the statement of British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Pakistan had a valid interest in Afghanistan. This statement has far-reaching consequences for the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The statement and the strategy behind it has several major and dangerous dimensions. The first is to deny the Northern Alliance access to Kabul. There is a historical precedent for this. Britain delayed the liberation of Prague by General Patton and facilitated instead the domination of Czechoslovakia by Russian troops at the end of World War II. Recall that Churchill and Stalin were wartime buddies who practised spheres of influence diplomacy in relation to Eastern Europe. Mr Tony Blair is continuing the imperial tradition in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is intended to keep the two countries looked into British calculations and there is no intention to look at the situation in the two countries from the point of view of their well-being and regional stability and prosperity.

The second British aim is to keep up the line that the Northern Alliance is made up of warlords and ethnic minorities. This detracts from the prospect that the Northern Alliance is aware of the need of the hour to join in a broad-based all-Afghan effort to rebuild the country, its government, a system of law, to create a new infrastructure of roads, hospitals and educational institutions which create the foundation for some sort of a civil society in the country.

This requires heavy involvement of UN agencies, and the signs are that the UN is ready to help. But the UN should not become a plaything of Britain when the urgent need is to deal with a monumental humanitarian disaster which clearly is a product of Western policies in part. Recall that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are made in America and made in Pakistan groupings.

Thirdly, the Blair statement was intended to convey that a Western viceroy is needed in Afghanistan, but this viceroy will not be like General Douglas MacArthur who created a new democratic and peace-oriented constitution in Japan. The Blair viceregal structure will contain elements of the much-hated Arab-Taliban elements as well as maintain the dominance and involvement of the Pakistani military and the ISI in Afghan affairs. This is where the “valid interest of Pakistan in Afghanistan” statement enters the equation.

So as the Western media speaks of a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and as the US government and the United Nations are keen to replace the Taliban with a new method to foster civil society in Afghanistan, the Blair aim is to give it new optics and to retain as much of the Taliban (the moderate ones?) and the “moderate” Pakistan military and intelligence agencies who are guarding against Islamic extremism in the region. It suits General Musharraf and Mr Blair that riots and protests are taking place in Pakistan. With this situation, poor Musharraf needs all the help he can get from the West considering the risk he has taken to facilitate American military action against the evil Taliban. This is the public pose. It is a mask which hides the real strategy which Mr Blair revealed and which is being pursued relentlessly.

Part of the strategy is to prevent an effective Indian role in Afghanistan. There are two consequences of the Blair strategy for India. One, it maintains the primary position of the Pakistani military and intelligence machinery — the two agencies with intimate ties with the Taliban. So, the firing of the ISI chief and the re-arrangement of pro-Taliban generals by General Musharraf are public relations gestures which lead the audience to reach wrong conclusions. They are meant to impress Mr Colin Powell and the media. Two, as long as the military and the ISI remain the most powerful coercive and political institutions in Pakistan, and local elections are organised to give that country a semblance of democracy to impress the Commonwealth and aid givers there can be no end to Pakistan-sponsored Kashmir insurgency. The next step will be to create the groundwork for Western or UN mediation in Kashmir.

The question for Mr Powell is whether he shares the Blair strategy, whether Washington intends to create a Taliban-free Afghanistan, whether it is the American intention to learn from past mistakes and its earlier experiences. Before World War II ended the USA made a determination to create a new political class in Germany and Japan so that there could be a clean break from military expansionism and fascism. Will Mr Powell think along these lines in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan, or will he be thinking about changing the optics and keeping the Taliban and ISI-Pakistan military forces involved? If Mr Powell intends to rely on the Blair agenda then the issue is not anti-terrorism. It is to maintain the terrorist forces as long as they do not attack America and western interests. Now is the time for India to ask questions and for Mr Colin Powell to provide answers.

Professor Sondhi is Co-Chairperson, Centre for the Study of National Security, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Professor Kapur is Chairman, Department of Political Science, Waterloo University, Canada.
Top

 
TRENDS & POINTERS

Genius kids who did the country proud

ANY person observing Preet and Nilesh indulge in the banter of youth wouldn’t notice anything special about the duo.

But these very boys, who talk about their college exams or girlfriends, were among 17 youngsters who did the country proud when they matched their wits against the world’s best and went on to win medals at the International Science Olympiad.

Five of the awardees were interacting with the Press after being felicitated on Wednesday by Minister of State for Human Resource Development Rita Verma. Among the successful youngsters is a lady. Namrata Vijayvergia says her family and teachers helped her succeed.

“Ajmer is a small city, there were not many people to guide me. Going abroad alone was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Namrata won a silver for her knowledge of Biology at the International Science Olympiad in Brussels.

The teenager is now in her first year at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, Ajmer, where her proud father Vinod Vijayvergia is one of her lecturers. Food was a major problem for the vegetarian girl during her stay in Belgium between July 8 and 15. “I had mainly French fries,” she smiles.

Preet Paul Singh is doing his first year at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and won a gold at the same event. The road to the top was certainly not smooth. They had to clear three levels of exams but hard work and regularity paid off. Interacting with students of other countries was exciting. “At the closing ceremony, seeing the national flag beside my name was great,” Preet says.

Sporting a tie and armed with sophisticated mannerisms, 17-year-old Shikhar Agarwal almost reminds one of President George W Bush declaring war on the Taliban. ‘Make no mistake, I’m an intelligent guy,’ Shikhar’s demeanour seems to say. “I did want to become a doctor. But an intelligent mind can do anything. I proved that by getting selected for IIT too.” He’s doing his first year at AIIMS and won a silver for Biology at the Olympiad.

“I was keenly interested in Mathematics from the beginning, but I never expected the gold medal. Books were not easily available. I photocopied several of them while training for the Olympiad at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). There were two papers of four-and-a-half hours duration,” says Abhay Kumar Jha of Delhi Public School, Bokaro.

Unlike the others, Abhay went over to Washington, DC for the Mathematics Olympiad. How what the American experience? “Frankly, India is much better,” Abhay says shyly from behind spectacles. So, what did he dislike about Uncle Sam? “Basically the culture is different,” Abhay replies. He is in his last year of schooling and was in the US between July 2 and 14. UNI
Top

 
POINT OF LAW

Supreme Court on secularisation and Shah Bano II
Anupam Gupta

EVEN as Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was bestowed the Nobel Prize last week ostensibly for literary excellence but essentially for reviling against Islam, a five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, wielding the secular broom, turned law upside down on September 28 in Daniel Latifi’s case alias Shah Bano II.

Far from nullifying the verdict in Shah Bano I, ruled the Bench, speaking through Justice Rajendra Babu, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, “actually and in reality codifies what was stated in Shah Bano’s case.”

Introduced in Parliament by a scared Rajiv Gandhi government just ten months after Shah Bano I, the Act — drafted reportedly by Prof Tahir Mahmood, a leading law academic at the University of Delhi and later Chairman of the Minorities Commission — became law on May 19, 1986.

“As on the date the Act came into force,” ruled the Constitution Bench on September 28, “the law applicable to Muslim divorced women is as declared by this Court in Shah Bano’s case. In this case (therefore), to find out the personal law of Muslims with regard to divorced women’s rights, the starting point should be Shah Bano’s case and not the original (Islamic) texts or any other material...”

When the Bench in Shah Bano I, it continued, “analysed... the Holy Quran and other relevant textual material, we do not think it is open for us to re-examine that position and delve into a research to reach another conclusion. We respectfully abide by what has been stated therein.”

“All that needs to be considered,” it said, “is whether in the Act (any) specific deviation has been made from the personal laws as declared by this Court in Shah Bano’s case without mutilating its underlying ratio. We have carefully analysed the same and come to the conclusion that the Act actually and in reality codifies what was stated in Shah Bano’s case.”

That, with great respect to the Supreme Court and all those who subscribe to the secular ideal of a uniform civil code, is the precise opposite of the truth.

And nothing in my own commitment to secularism, a commitment that I assure you is more than lip-deep, and to the emancipation of women fashionably miscalled gender justice, will deter me from saying so.

The truth is that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, was a deliberate and wilful political initiative to undo the Shah Bano case, whose flaming advocacy of a uniform civil code and intellectually ambitious attempt to interpret the Koran for itself had outraged vast sections of orthodox Muslim opinion.

The truth is that the reform of Muslim personal law so valiantly inaugurated by the Supreme Court in Shah Bano I invited a backlash so huge and frightening that even the author of the judgement — the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud — was forced publicly to recant or offer an apology of sorts.

The truth is that, for reasons totally beyond judicial control, the voice of Liberal Islam — “We need not bother about nomenclature,” said Daniel Latifi’s cousin and a leading Indian scholar of Muslim law, Asaf A.A. Fyzee, in 1982, “but if some name has to be given to it, let us call it Liberal Islam” — has been drowned out in India and many parts of the world today, rendering the cause of secularisation of Muslim personal law well-nigh impossible, if not dangerous for national survival.

“If there are any Hindus amongst us,” said one of the tallest of liberal Muslims ever to walk on the subcontinent, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in 1940, “who desire to bring back the Hindu life of a thousand years ago and more, they dream, and such dreams are vain fantasies.”

“So also if there are any Muslims,” he continued, delivering his presidential address to the Indian National Congress at Ramgarh, “who wish to revive their past civilisation and culture, which they brought a thousand years ago from Iran and Central Asia, they dream also and the sooner they wake up the better. These are unnatural fancies which cannot take root in the soil of reality.”

“I am one of those,” he added, “who believe that revival may be a necessity in a religion but in social matters it is a denial of progress.”

The truth is that voices like Azad’s are heard no more and, absent leaders like him, the Indian state has neither the competence nor the credibility to even attempt to dispel the obscurantism that seems to surround the personal law of the Muslims.

More than anything else, this was reflected in the manner in which the Rajiv Gandhi government took fright at the first stirrings of the controversy engendered by Shah Bano I and hastened to enact and adopt the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.

To hold now, as the Supreme Court did on September 28, that the Act codifies the Shah Bano verdict, instead of undoing it, is to stand the truth on its head.

The nobility of the court’s intentions is entirely beside the point, though it would be unfair on my part not to bring it to the readers’ notice.

“In our society, whether they belong to the majority or the minority group,” says Justice Rajendra Babu, “what is apparent is that there exists a great disparity in the matter of economic resourcefulness between a man and a woman. Our society is male-dominated both economically and socially and women are assigned, invariably, a dependent role irrespective of the class of society to which she belongs.”

“A woman on her marriage (he says) though highly educated, gives up her all other avocations and entirely devotes herself to the welfare of her family. (I)n particular, she shares with her husband her emotions, sentiments, mind and body, and her investment in the marriage is her entire life — a sacramental sacrifice of her individual self.. far too enormous to be measured in terms of money.”

Marriage as sacramental sacrifice — that is a remarkable expression used by the court, though it is better directed at Hindu law, which once considered marriage as an indissoluble sacrament, than at its Muslim counterpart which has always treated marriage as a contract.

“When a relationship of this nature breaks up (says Justice Babu), in what manner we should compensate her so far as emotional fracture or loss of investment is concerned, there can be no answer.”

He proceeds, nonetheless, to give an answer that draws no distinction whatsoever between the personal laws of different communities, completely overlooking the fact that the 1986 Act deals only with Muslim divorcees, not Hindu or any other.

Unlike Shah Bano I, which dealt with Sections 125 and 127 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a code which like all criminal laws covers all communities.

“(I)t is difficult to perceive (holds Justice Babu) that Muslim law intends to provide a different kind of responsibility” for maintenance of divorced women than the law of other communities, and concludes on this aspect with a statement which is sweepingly and simplistically secular.

“Solutions to such societal problems of universal magnitude,” he says, “pertaining to horizons of basic human rights, culture, dignity and decency of life and dictates of necessity in the pursuit of social justice should be invariably left to be decided on considerations other than religion or religious faith or beliefs, or national, sectarian, racial or communal constraints. Bearing this aspect in mind, we have to interpret the provisions of the Act in question.”

There would barely be a Hindu who would disagree with this approach to matters of personal law.

And barely a Muslim who would agree with it.

This coincidence of Hindu and secular perceptions on the point is openly acknowledged in a Full Bench judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, one of the judgements approved and followed by the Supreme Court on September 28.

“The legislative intention and language of the provisions (of the 1986 Act),” ruled the High Court in October, 1997, in Kaka vs Hassan Bano, “appears to be more in line with the settled principles adopted by the Courts while granting maintenance to a Hindu woman ...under Section 24 of the Hindu Marriage Act.”

But that precisely is the problem with Shah Bano II and the secularising mission of the Supreme Court in a country where Hinduism is the religion of the majority.

And that precisely is the reason why Jawaharlal Nehru, who considered the adoption of the Hindu Code Bill and the emancipation of Hindu women the most important achievement of his 17 years as Prime Minister — as he told Taya Zinkin a little before his death — wanted the initiative for reform of Muslim personal law to come from the Muslim community rather than launching upon it himself.

More on Shah Bano II next week. 

Top

 

Your friend is your needs answered.

He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

And he is your board and your fireside.

For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind

you fear not the "nay" in your mind nor do you withhold the "ay".

And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;

For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth.

And let your best be for your friend.

If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?

Seek him always with hours to live...

The solution to crime and all behaviour that brings unhappiness to the family of man, is to raise individual and collective consciousness to such a high level of coherence that all actions by every person simultaneously fulfil both his own needs and the needs of society.

As individuals improve their brain functioning by developing higher states of consciouness through transcendental meditation, they will cease to violate not only the law of the land, but also the unwritten laws of nature. They become kinder, more successful, more cooperative and more peaceful.

— From Enlightenment: The solution to Crime (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s publication)
Top

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
|
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | In Spotlight | Chandigarh Tribune | Ludhiana Tribune
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
|
121 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |