Friday, June 18, 2004

Secularism news -- India and England

Asghar Ali Engineer [note, the last time I tried, their website was down] has an op-ed in the Indian Express today, on banning the practice known as 'triple talaq'. In India, as many of you probably know, each major religious group has its own marriage law. The Hindu Marriage Act has been reformed somewhat over the years, especially regarding the right to divorce, the obligation of men to pay alimony and child support, and women's right to property. However, the Muslim marriage act has not been reformed. Consequently, polygamy is still legal for Muslims only, as is the practice whereby Muslim men can divorce their wives saying simply ("I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you"), and not be required to give any alimony or further support whatsoever. Asghar Ali Engineer argues that the practice is wrong, and should be made illegal in India; I agree.

Read Jivha's take on this.

Also, the Delhi psyhoanalyst Ashis Nandy has for a long time been associated with the position that because secularism is foreign to India, Indians need to implement their own, indigenous version of religious tolerance. The recent problems with communalism in India, according to him, are a result of using a political method that is alien to Indian soil. He has been attacked many, many times by writers from different sides of the political spectrum, including Aijaz Ahmad, Rajeev Bhargava, Achin Vanaik, Meera Nanda, and most recently, Kuldip Nayar. In this week's Outlook India, Nandy responds (again).

[I might venture a comment on this a bit later. Coffee still taking effect...]

Finally, secularism issues in England, with this case. See the short entry on it at Crooked Timber and, as always, the discussion of the issue there. Should a Muslim girl named Shabina Begum be allowed to wear a special kind of gown called a jibab? The UK allows Muslim girls to wear simple headscarves (hijab), and her particular school's uniform policy already allows girls to wear the traditional Indo/Pak dress called salwaar kameez, which is satisfactory to the vast majority of England's Muslims. This is the girl's own interpretation of Islam, and it's one she's arrived at recently -- earlier she wore hijab and salwaar kameez. To what degree should the school, which otherwise has a strict uniform policy, accommodate it?


Rob Breymaier said...

This is an issue that comes up in American multicultural discourse as well. For instance, when courting certain groups that migh be kindred spirits on certain progressive issues (say the environment) should we ignore a macho culture that might be part of that culture? It's a hard question to answer because leftists usually understand that not philosophical stance is without its contradictions. However, it seems as though an aim that could be beneficial in any circumstance is the liberation of women. So, in this case I think that India should update all of its marriage laws to give women equal status. I don't know enough pre-British Indian history to say if there are precedents in Indian culture for this. However, the idea that women in America should be treated equally isn't that old a concept. And, democracies don't exactly have the longest history either. This form of politics is relatively new to everyone - not just Indians.

10:39 AM  

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