Today Indian Supreme Court delivered its verdict on Triple Talaq. Despite being a landmark event, India still faces the politically difficult question of deciding if societal reforms should remain prisoners of religion. While large sections of educated, liberal Indian populace have chosen to ignore this issue, excusing their silence on it being an internal issue of the Muslim community. However, today, in the twenty first century, India must decide if any religion is to be permitted to remain the prime custodian of citizen rights and responsibilities as against the nation’s founding ideals.
It isn’t hard to appreciate that contemporary social context influences religion. However, the sustenance and even flourishing of the society rests on the society’s ability to continuously subject itself to critical self-evaluation, discard what it has outgrown and develop higher ideals according to the newer truths as uncovered with the passage of time.
This brings before us three uncomfortable, yet unavoidable aspects. These very aspects define a scientific framework that ought to dictate how any country should address social reforms:
(1) Critical Self-Examination
While societies evolve and develop, new truths are discovered and elevated value systems are created. The process inevitably results in collisions of inherited religious principles on the one hand, and inclusive principles on the other. On each such conflict, only those that conform with the society’s founding ideals ought to prevail.
It isn’t uncommon to find such instances. In our history, India has discarded practices such as Sati, eradicated the society’s resistance to remarriage of widows, moved beyond caste system and so many others. Extreme reformations from the Brahmo Samaj to the Arya Samaj have happened and resulted in the discarding of many orthodox religious practices, creating much stronger and progressive societies.
In the western world, the extent of shift to discarding ‘knowledge’ of a flat earth being revolved around by the sun, and subsequently the separation of religion and state during the renaissance built strong and healthy nations.
Unwillingness to accept this minimum, necessary prerequisite to progress will seriously compromise her ability to subject all thought streams to such critical examination.
(2) Us and Them
While practice of customs and traditions may be exclusive to individual sub-communities, their impact isn’t restricted to those communities. They influence the entirety of the future generations and India, as any other modern nation, must decide the nature of the society she wishes to bequeath unto her future generations.
Whether the issues in discussion relate to marriages or the modernization of madrasas. None of these issues are internal to a single community. Every Indian citizen is a stakeholder in the determination of such questions and any claim otherwise, is a deprivation of the citizen’s fundamental right to influence the future of the country.
There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ that is a smaller denomination than the country, inasmuch as the issues affect the future of the nation.
(3) Conflicts between Religion and Constitution
Under no circumstance, can any Indian allow the legitimacy of their country to be derived from religion. The premise is dangerous and principally, elevates religious affiliations above national concerns.
A truly secular state must function with undiluted compliance with the founding principles, guaranteeing qualitatively equal treatment to all citizens. All principles, religious or else, stand irrelevant otherwise.
In conclusion, the question of Triple Talaq today presents a crucial challenge before all Indians. It tests our ability to choose a socio-political framework that stands up boldly to proclaim the dissociation of religion from any reform. No intellectual can claim any sort of religious or other exclusivity to it.
For humanity, the 21st Century and beyond can only rest on an idea that guarantees the freedom of pursuit to every individual. The hope for humanity of course, rests on the nobility of such pursuits, but structurally, liberal democracies must create decision structures that address these facets fearlessly.