Triple talaq and Indian Urdu Press: Why is the space limited for dissenting views?
Some of the Urdu newspapers do not give even a minor space for a different or divergent opinion when it comes to the Muslim Personal Laws.
Seema Chishti, a senior journalist with The Indian Express, has noted in her recent article entitled, The Urdu Press: Strikes and slogans: “Despite expression of dissatisfaction and even criticism of the affidavit filed by the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board in the Supreme Court on the issue of triple talaq in a section of the Urdu press, there is a sense of unanimity in support of the Board and for not allowing any interference in personal law by the government."
But I find a note of introspection completely missing from the Urdu journalism in India. Today’s Urdu press mostly controlled by the clerics has a very restricted space for the dissenting views on current affairs. A review of the country’s Urdu dailies on the ongoing ‘divorce debate’ makes it pretty self-explanatory. Be it the Uniform Civil Code or the controversial issue of Triple Talaq, it is not difficult to see the brazen breach of the journalistic ethics in the Urdu press.
Some of the Urdu newspapers do not give even a minor space for a different or divergent opinion when it comes to the Muslim Personal Laws. They do not publish anything critical of the misplaced patriarchy, mullahs’ male chauvinism or violation of Muslim women's rights. The editorial policies in most of the Urdu media outlets appear to be Shariah-controlled.
A recent article in the Firstpost titled, Urdu media agog with conspiracy theories to force changes in Shariah has also candidly depicted this picture. It explored how the Muslim organisations like Darul Uloom Deoband, All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind are furthering their ends through the Urdu newspapers published from various cities in the country. Consequently, they are the instruments in bolstering the nationwide agitation against the Law Commission of India’s questionnaire on Uniform Civil Code.
In her article, Seema Chishti has recounted how the leading Urdu daily Roznma Rashtriya Sahara’s reports earned huge support for AIMPLB. In a hagiographical report on the AIMPLB being endorsed by the prominent Indian Ulema and Islamic clergymen, the daily went to the extent of reporting that “All-India Muslim Personal Law Board alone is the representative organisation of Indian Muslims.”
Since the emergence of the divorce debate, Rashtriya Sahara Urdu has been quoting an increasing number of the Islamic clerics and ulema extending an unconditional support to the AIMPLB. For instance, a report in the Urdu daily dated 18 October has quoted Maulana Jalaluddin Umri, the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (Indian version of Jama’at-e-Islami which has its sister organizations in Bangladesh and Pakistan):
“It is the belief of Muslims that no change is possible in the principles of the Quran, Hadees (traditions and sayings of the prophet) and the Shariat till the end of the world (qayamat). The Jamaat whole-heartedly supports the stand of the Personal Law Board on these issues."
Tone and tenor
There is no denying that divorce is an essential right of every man and woman, enshrined in the Indian Constitution as well as in Islam, especially in this day and age when marriage is not something irrevocable. Gone are the days when an Indian woman was taken for granted once she tied the knot with a man. Talaq, which is considered the worst permissible thing in Islam, turns out to be an ease for both men and women in many unavoidable circumstances.
But the tone and tenor the maulvis are using in the Urdu media order to justify their position on the ‘triple talaq in one setting’ is distressing. Challenging the Supreme Court’s decision to examine the issue of triple talaq, AIMPLB stated that “Triple talaq is better than murdering wife”. This was headlined not only in most of the Urdu newspapers but also in a number of the English media outlets like the Outlook.
One wonders at the naivety of the AIMPLB in issuing such reactionary statements which are not reasoned by any stretch of imagination. AIMPLB further told the Supreme Court, “Marriage is a contract in which both parties are not physically equal. Male is stronger and female is a weaker sex. Securing separation through court takes a long time deters prospects of remarriage.” Without any critical look at such misogynistic and male-chauvinistic positions, an overwhelming majority of the Urdu newspapers echoed the viewpoint of the AIMPLB that “the apex court cannot rewrite personal laws in the name of social reform”. A leading Urdu newspaper in Delhi Roznama Jadid Khabar ran a front-page five-column story on the consensus (ijma) of the ulama and muftis (experts of Islamic jurisprudence) in favour of the AIMPLB. It quoted many clerics and rectors of the madrasas such as Maulana Mufti Abul Qasim Nomani, rector of the Darul Uloom Deoband, who stated: "Triple talaq and polygamy are an essential part of the Muslim Personal Law. Any type of change is impossible."
‘Progressive Press’ in Urdu
The baffling problem with the Urdu press is, as shown above, its limited space for the dissenting views, particularly on religious polemics. Clergymen, rather than intellectuals of the Muslim community occupy pages in it. Editors show no consciousness of the sectarian ideologies being promoted through the clerical statements. Consequently, they don’t produce even the slightest sign of introspection in the readers, and of course, no self-criticism ever. This remains the same case with the ongoing debate on triple talaq, as the Urdu daily Roznama Khabrein hints in a signed front-page editorial on 9 October, critiquing the widespread phenomenon: “This is not the time for ishtea’al angezi (emotional offensive). Rather, it is a time to convert the legal battle into victory by a patient approach. Among other weaknesses, in an effort to justify triple talaq, the traditions of four sects of Muslims have been mentioned in the affidavit, but there is no mention of the Shia sect (which has reservations about triple talaq)….. It could be argued that everyone has the liberty to follow the traditions of their own sect. Hence, views of all sects should have been included."
However, a sort of progression can also be seen in the Urdu journalism, though very rarely. The Mumbai-based Urdu newspaper Inqilab is the first Urdu daily which has opened up a divergent debate on divorce and Uniform Civil Code, incorporating dissenting views. An editorial in the Inquilab (dated 18 October) entitled A Slap on the Polemics of Talaq has slammed the issue as an “unnecessary polemic”. The newspaper argues that Muslims’ condition is worse than that of the Dalits and other backward sections of the Indian society, as the Sachchar Committee has also revealed. Therefore, it recommends the government to ameliorate the social, educational, economic and political condition of Muslims rather than indulge in the unnecessary issues.
On 19 October, Inquilab published a detailed discussion on the issue. Talking to the Inquilab, Maulana Syed Ashraf Kichchawchchvi wondered as to how the Uniform Civil Code or the abolishment of the triple talaq would help in the country's development. He asked: If the government intends to provide equal rights to Muslims, it should not refrain from removing the religious stipulation from the Section 341 in the Constitution. “The religious terms in Section 341 hampers the Muslim community from availing the opportunities of progression open to other backward communities and classes like the Dalits," he said.
The author is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. Views are personal. He tweets at @GRDehlvi. Email: email@example.com