Women in legal limbo since Shah Bano
Sorabjee slams Sangh ‘crusade’
Misa victims snub BJP
Soulsearch taunt to Cong
Memories of the night India lost its innocence

New Delhi, June 24 
The landmark Shakila judgment has once again brought in sharp focus the complete indifference of the government and the clergy towards Muslim women.

Though the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Divorce Act was passed in 1986, in the last 15 years not a single woman was paid maintenance in accordance with the law as no modifications were made in the Waqf Act to make it operational.

The 1986 Act had said that cash-rich state Waqf boards were to provide for maintenance in case the divorced woman was unable to sustain herself and had no relatives — father, brother or son — to support her.

The Rajiv Gandhi government had enacted the law after community leaders convinced him that Shariat laws did not permit divorced husbands to pay maintenance beyond the ‘iddat’ period, which is approximately three lunar months.

The Shakila case has once again made it clear that as far as rights of Muslim women are concerned, nothing has changed since the Shah Bano verdict 15 years ago.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board — which forced the Rajiv government to over-rule the Shah Bano verdict for a “more honourable” Rs 500- per-month maintenance against the Rs 125 under the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 — has sought a copy of the judgment from Calcutta High Court to “study” and take “corrective steps”.

But the ministry of social welfare is yet to react, though Waqf and the Central Waqf Council of India come directly under it.

Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha K. Rahman Khan slammed the government for its failure to even convene a meeting of Waqf boards to ensure payment to destitute divorced Muslim women.

“It is shocking that successive governments made no effort to allow the state Waqf boards to ensure implementation of the 1986 law,” Khan, who runs a Rs 300-crore Amanat bank in Karnataka, said.

“They cannot escape responsibility by blaming the Muslim community,” he added.

According to informed sources, most Waqf boards in the country are making huge profits, but the benefits hardly ever reach the community.

The annual turn-over of the Haryana and Punjab Waqf Board is anything between Rs 50 and 70 crore.

However, the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Waqf Boards — which have more than 1,00,000 Waqf properties — are facing a crunch because of rampant corruption and political interference.

The Central Waqf Council of India functions from the dingy barracks near India Gate. But though the advisory body comprises well-known Muslim personalities, its meetings are rarely held with virtually no involvement of social welfare minister Maneka Gandhi.    

New Delhi, June 24 
Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee today strongly condemned the reported call of a Bajrang Dal leader for an “oust-Christian” campaign and said such persons should be sent to lunatic asylums.

Even as the Catholic Bishop’ Conference of India expressed concern over the Centre’s “silence” on the spurt in church attacks, Sorabjee said: “Persons who make statements that Christians are bigger enemies than Muslims should be locked up either in jail or in a lunatic asylum.”

Bajrang Dal leaders, from Uttar Pradesh was quoted as saying that Christians were “bigger enemies than Muslims”. Threatening violence, he said his organisation was ready to fight wherever church institutions were active.

“Such scurrilous statements cause immense damage to the secular image of our country and government and induce a sense of insecurity in the minds of minorities,” the top law officer of the country said. He added that such statements provide ammunition to hostile elements for anti-India propaganda.

Taking exception to the attacks against Christians and the vandalisation of a cemetery in Andhra Pradesh, Sorabjee said this would damage the secular image of the country and the Centre.

The National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities had also taken note of the Bajrang Dal statement yesterday. The rights commission has issued a notice to Uttar Pradesh government asking it toreport within a week on the news item quoting the Dal leader.

Meanwhile, the new president of Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios said: “the church is ready to take an initiative to hold dialogue with anyone to remove the wrong perception about Christianity”.

“We are very much concerned about the inspiration and motivation behind these attacks, but we cannot pin-point anyone without verification. We are worried about the tolerance of the official machinery in arresting the culprits,” said the new Arch- bishop.

Baselios, who assumed charge after the demise of Archbishop Alan de Lastic in Poland on June 21, said “we are ready to hold dialogue, specially with those who are responsible for spreading wrong perceptions regarding Christianity.”

On the reported press statement of the Bajrang Dal activist he said, “I want to ask them what they think Christianity is? We want to tell them that we are also very much Indian like them. We are part of the country.”

The Archbishop said he will continue with the efforts made by de Lastic in “bridging the gap”, if any, between the community and government.

“We will foster our dialogue with the government and with all those who misunderstand us,” he said.

The bishop’s conference welcomed the move by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to meet Pope John Paul II, during his current visit to Italy.

“It is a move graciously taken. It is a very good decision, specially at this moment,” Baselio said.

Asked about the motivation behind this move, specially when the Christian community was going through a phase against the secular ethos of the country, he said, “I cannot speak about the motivation regarding the meeting. But I think the Prime Minister will be more convinced about the good feelings of the community after meeting the Pope.”


Ahmedabad, June 24 
The BJP bid to embarrass the Congress by organising a function to honour Gujarat’s Misa detainees seems to have boomeranged after prominent invitees, who fought the Emergency and were jailed, turned down the invitation.

The BJP, they said, has no “moral right to felicitate Emergency detainees” as it was a mass movement and such functions should be organised by a citizens’ committee, and not by a political party.

In another snub to the BJP, those who are not attending the June 27 function have decided to hold a separate one a day earlier.

Among those who turned down the offer were Prakash Shah, Chunibhai Vaidya, Navalbahi Shah, Prabhar Khamar and Bragkumar Bhatt.

Prakash Shah, editor of Nireeksha magazine, was an active member of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement. He also played a leading role in forming the Janata Morcha. Navalbhai Shah was the state’s education minister before he was arrested under Misa. Rajya Sabha MP Bragkumar Bhatt was a secretary in the Janata Front.

Sarvodaya leader Chunibhai Vaidya was then editing Bhumiputra. It was the Bhumiputra case in which the Gujarat High Court delivered a judgment against the pre-censorship order of the Government of India.

Explaining why he turned down the honour, Navalbhai Shah, now in his eighties, said: “There is no need to felicitate those who opposed the Emergency. We had not fought the Emergency to get felicitated by the BJP which is not the real inheritor of JP’s legacy.”

Asked why he has chosen to stay away, Vaidya said there was no basic difference between the Congress and the BJP. The new version of Tada is as draconian as Misa, he said.

Vaidya, in fact, wrote to the BJP, saying he would attend the function only if he was “allowed to speak about the Umergaon fishermen’s agitation against the proposed Mega commercial port in the area”.

But the BJP played safe. “Ours is a positive programme to recall the dark days and not a political function. So how can we allow it to be misused or politicised,” said party spokesman Bharat Pandya.

Cutting across party lines, the BJP has also sent invitations to about 600 political prisoners in the state, requesting them to grace the occasion where they will be presented a silver medal, a shawl and a certificate. Home minister L.K. Advani and BJP national president Kushabhau Thakre are expected to attend.

In his letter to BJP state chief Rajendrasinh Rana, Prakash Shah said his party had long forfeited the moral right to celebrate such occasions. He told him that while JP’s pro-democracy movement embodied people’s struggle against authoritarian rule, the BJP, after Advani’s rath yatra, had communalised the country and was far removed from the spirit of the struggle.

Pandya, however, downplayed Vaidya and Shah’s reactions. “They have always opposed the BJP. It was expected that they would react the way they did,” he said.


New Delhi, June 24 
Recounting the dark days of the Emergency imposed by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 25 years ago, the BJP today asked the Congress to do “some introspection” even as defence minister George Fernandes alleged that the party was “still in the Emergency mould”.

The BJP, which is organising a “Remember the Emergency and Strengthen Democracy” week from June 25 to July 1 throughout the country, said the programmes are intended to educate the younger generation about the horrors of the draconian rule.

But Fernandes, who had been an aggressive crusader against the “fascist” rule, was on the defensive when questioned about the recent violence on Christians in different parts of the country.

Asked if the nation was not facing an “institutionalised fascism”, he said the voice of the people who highlight their problem was not being gagged. “Our government is the most transparent,” he said.

Fernandes said there was nothing new in these attacks on Christian institutions. “Such incidents have taken place in Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which had strong Congress governments,” he said, adding that a “systematic disinformation campaign is being carried out now”.

“Such atrocities have been taking place against people of all caste and religion in many parts of the country. But why have Christians remained silent on such incidents against other communities?” he asked.

Urging the Congress to introspect on the Emergency, BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said his party was not asking Sonia Gandhi to apologise. But the Congress, he said, should do some soul searching instead of making “absurd” statements.

In a scarcely veiled dig at the Congress, he said the threat to democracy could erupt again if there was no internal democracy within political parties and the tendency to prop up “dynastic rule” continued.

The defence minister also tried to downplay the presence of some ministers in the A.B. Vajpayee government who were with the establishment during the Emergency.

“Every saint has a past and every sinner a future. If those who made mistakes have chosen to come out of that and work for a better India, why shouldn’t they be acceptable,” he said.

Asked if it was not embarrassing to share power with those he had fought during the Emergency days, Fernandes retorted that if they wanted to help the people, they should be given a chance.    

June 24 
Twenty five years ago on this day, the Emergency was declared. Some politicians recall the longest night in Independent India.

Chandrababu Naidu: On the day of Emergency, June 25, 1975, I was attending a students union meeting at Sri Venkateswara University at Tirupati.

I felt bad once I heard about it over the radio. Such a thing did not happen in a democracy.

Andhra Pradesh did not witness much of the famed excesses as chief minister Vengal Rao did not allow any hanky panky.

The impact of Emergency scarred the Congress. It affected the party badly in the next decade. It lost the confidence of the South, leading to the birth of the regional parties and their foray into national politics now.

Lack of awareness of rights made the Emergency more draconian. The growth of information technology now makes imposition of another Emergency at least difficult, if not impossible.

Jyoti Basu:This time we are going to fight our political opponents on June 25, the day on which the Calcutta Municipal Corporation goes to polls. Twenty-five years ago too, we fought them on this “Black Day”, when Indira Gandhi promulgated Emergency.

We, the Leftists, had to go underground. I passed many a sleepless night overseeing party work. Although I was not arrested, many of my comrades were put behind bars.

We were all with Jayaprakash Narayan, who launched a countrywide movement. I still remember that there was a huge silent procession in Calcutta, in which we all participated along with Narayan to protest against Mrs Gandhi’s authoritarianism.

In West Bengal, the situation was the worst with chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray asking the police to tail me. However, we found friends in some Congressmen like Prafulla Chandra Sen and Bijoy Singh Narhar, who were with us under the banner of the Congress (Organisation). I, the late Promode Dasgupta and Sen used to meet at his Loudon Street apartment to plan a united protest. Unfortunately, the CPI was then with Mrs Gandhi and did not protest.

During Emergency, we were not allowed to hold any public meetings. Wherever I went, the police used to follow me. Party journals were censored. It was a nightmarish experience for me.

I had hardly any occasion to call on the late Mrs Gandhi. But whenever I had an opportunity to meet her, I voiced my protest against her decision to promulgate Emergency.

Sushil Modi and Laloo Prasad Yadav: Why do you want to embarrass me by asking uncomfortable questions about the Emergency?” shot back Laloo Yadav, when approached for a reaction almost 25 years after Emergency.

However, his then comrade-in-arms and now arch-rival Sushil Modi was more forthcoming. “When we came to know about Emergency, both Lalooji and me, then comrades-in-arms against an authoritarian rule, were agitated. We tried to run away from jail, but were soon recaptured and put behind bars again. In jail we used to read newspapers which were heavily censured.

We used to control the student politicians at that time and although we were in jail, the agitation spread like wildfire all over the state. Government establishments were torched, the jail became overcrowded,” he recalled.

Arun Jaitley The police came knocking at our door late at night on the 25th. I had just returned home after JP’s Ramlila Maidan rally. The police said they wanted to arrest me, and my father — a lawyer — got into an argument. So the police took him away and I managed to escape. I went to a friend’s house and found out that many leaders had been arrested.

Early next morning, I was at Delhi University. I was then the president of the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) and the convener of JP’s national student and youth organisations. Colleges were closed for the summer vacations but we — Vijay Goel (now BJP MP), Rajat Sharma (television journalist) and I — managed to mobilise 200 students or so.

I thinks ours was the only demonstration on the first day of Emergency. We marched to the V-C’s office and burnt effigies. In a way, I courted arrest and was in jail for the next 19 months.

I was released on January 25, 1977, a week after Indira Gandhi announced elections. I joined campaigning and realised Mrs Gandhi was going to be trounced.

Arun Shourie: I do not recall how and when exactly I came to know of Emergency. I was in Washington then, working for the World Bank. I came back in May 1976. There was an atmosphere of fear. Magazines such as Seminar were forced to suspend publication. Among the newspapers, only The Indian Express and The Statesman stood up against the Emergency.    


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