There is a Biblical parable about a vineyard owner who hires workers throughout the day, but pays them equal wages at sunset. “Are you envious because I am generous?” he asks those who protested. The apologue was revisited last week when Supreme Court Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Ganguly criticised the UPA’s attempts at personal law reform not going beyond Hindus. “The Hindu community has been tolerant to these statutory interventions. But there appears a lack of secular commitment as it has not happened for other religions,” they remarked.True, Hindus have a historic reputation for national passivity, having endured religious persecution for centuries. Thousands died in Somnath and Kasi in the 11th century; hundreds of Rajput women immolated themselves to avoid rape by invaders; Babur killed millions and Aurangazeb walled thousands up in the name of God. Ancient history, indeed and irrelevant to modern India — except that major Delhi roads are named after these despots.Perhaps, the political architects of modern India quixotically assumed that, by doing this, Muslims would be reassured of their place in Indian history, thereby perversely identifying Islamic interests with Babur’s and Aurangazeb’s. The Congress has always been obsessed with the Muslim vote; as far back as in 1946, it realized that the Muslim League — its traditional communal opposition — was a fast-growing beanstalk: while in the 1937 provincial elections, the League got only 108 out of 485 Muslim seats, it secured 76 per cent of the total Muslim vote in 1946-47. Meanwhile, Hindu politics began to appropriate the Indian women’s rights debate — the Arya Samaj, which according to historian Percival Spear, “led it towards intolerance towards both Muslims and Christians”— resulting in the right wing parties becoming champions of a Uniform Civil Code. The Hindu right replaced the Muslim League as the traditional political enemy of the Congress.To perpetuate its dominance, it was important for the Congress to entrench itself in the Muslim mass mind. The majority of Indian Muslims live below the poverty line and are uneducated while Muslim leadership is dominated by maulvis. The covert communal politics of the Congress resulted in the petrifaction of medieval Muslim machismo, which considers women inferior — fitna — or a ‘potential disorder’ to the stability of a society, and hence mandates them to be kept in seclusion. It wasn’t so always; in 1916, an Education report commented that, “the percentages for the Mohammedan community were more favourable than that for all communities together, and even figures for Mohammedan girls alone did not fall below the figures for all classes for female pupils.” Today, urban Muslim female graduates are a minority, (0.8 per cent, against 4.2 per cent of Hindu women and 5.5 per cent of Christian women). Until the concept of minority is re-evaluated in India, the Indian Muslim — especially the women — will live in distrust; disadvantaged, uncompetitive and unprosperous. The Muslim population in India was 13 crore according to the 2001 census, while the entire population of Pakistan is 17 crore in 2010. The Hindu and Muslim alike share the idea of India and Pakistan is not a sub-patriotic option. In 1989, even an enlightened Socialist like George Fernandes declared, “Whether we want to admit it or not, most Indians consider Muslims a fifth column for Pakistan.” If the Congress really seeks the empowerment of the Indian Muslim, a Uniform Civil Code is a must. The judiciary has made this clear. Politicians who question judicial activism may be reminded of Justice Bhagawati’s words, “The judge is not a mimic. Greatness of the bench lies in creativity. It is for this reason that when a law comes before a judge he has to invest it with meaning and content.” The government must cease being creative with the meaning of secularism and stop mimicking the realities of 1947. Otherwise the parable of equality will remain unexplained to India.
The author is Executive Editor of this newspaper. firstname.lastname@example.org