The Central government’s faith in fanfare is almost touching. Almost, because the fanfare is usually meant as a distraction from dark themes. Thus the Muslim Women’s Rights Day on August 1 attracted the description of ‘cynical optics’ from men, women and transpersons across religions and castes. The phrase was part of a letter written by over 600 people to the Union minority affairs minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who celebrated the self-reliance, self-confidence and self-respect of women from the minority community which, he claimed, had grown with the Centre’s enactment of the law against instant triple talaq. August 1, identified by the Narendra Modi government as the day to honour Muslim women’s rights, is the anniversary of the enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019. The law itself is highly controversial, because it criminalizes men from the minority community in a civil matter, suggesting that the government is eager for punitive measures against them. This is made even clearer by the fact that the Supreme Court had ruled in 2017 that instant triple talaq was unconstitutional — as critics point out, no law was necessary.
But instant triple talaq offered the government a ruse for intervention and criminalization in the name of women’s rights. Mr Naqvi’s comments express the government’s condescension and its arrogant sense of control. The name, Muslim Women’s Rights Day, shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party cannot think without discrimination — the rights of women of one community are set apart from those of all women — while it also associates Muslim women’s empowerment with the government’s success in ramming through the law. The BJP-led government’s ceaseless efforts to put the largest minority community at a disadvantage at every level, through the nexus of citizenship laws, for example, or illicit policies against a non-existent love jihad, or by imprisoning its members for bewildering reasons or moving late when there is violence against them by cow-protection vigilantes, turn the Muslim Women’s Rights Day into a symbol of the regime’s doublespeak. That leaders right up to the prime minister refused to engage with the women sitting at Shaheen Bagh in peaceful protest against the citizenship laws even after their ardent requests indicates that the BJP may not be too anxious to face the much-celebrated rights in action.