Sushma Swaraj Didn’t Deserve The Abuse, But She Needs To Learn From Lucknow Passport Controversy

Sushma Swaraj Didn’t Deserve The Abuse,  But She  Needs To Learn From Lucknow Passport ControversyExternal Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during an event in New Delhi. (Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • Although the ministry was wrong to announce the transfer of the passport officer without a proper probe, the excessive trolling of Swaraj was a bit unfair.

    Those who turned abusive towards Swaraj should learn a lesson too. They should avoid seeing red whenever they see a Hindu woman marrying a Muslim.

The recent brouhaha over the issue of passports to Tanvi Seth and her husband Anas Siddiqui shows how everyone jumps to conclusions based on misleading first information and personal biases.

It all started with a tweet by Seth last week, who claimed she was being harassed by a Lucknow passport officer, Vikas Mishra, who allegedly told her husband to get converted when he found that her name differed from the one indicated in her nikahnama (which was Shadia Anas).

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is always sensitive to accusations that it is biased against so-called interfaith couples, the External Affairs Ministry quickly announced a transfer of Mishra, and then got their passports issued the next day.

Mishra, meanwhile, claimed that he was only trying to make sure that rules were being followed, since passports could not be issued where documents showed divergent names.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj then got badly abused and criticised on social media for taking hasty decisions based on just one version of the incident. The excessive trolling was, however, a bit unfair, for Swaraj has shown herself to be very responsive to public requests for help in visas and passports, making her ministry gain respect. So, responding to the Seth tweet was not any kind of undue favour shown to her.

However, the incident suggests that almost everyone is trigger happy when it comes to judging such sensitive issues. And this does not bode well.

First, clearly the ministry was wrong to announce Mishra’s transfer without a proper probe. If he had really said all that he was alleged to have said to the couple, sure he should be reprimanded and transferred. But shooting first and then asking questions later is wrong in principle.

Second, it is not a great idea for the ministry to respond to every such complaint with a guilty conscience. It is almost as if the minister was keen to avoid being seen as unwilling to help a couple where the man was Muslim. BJP ministers are particularly vulnerable to this kind of accusations, since anything going wrong will be assumed as official Hindutva bias. Ministers like Swaraj will be caught between the rock of “secular” critics, and the “hard place” of Hindu social media activists who may allege “appeasement.”

Third, the media split along lines, with the so-called “secular” sections dubbing the couple as inter-faith, when no one knew whether Tanvi converted, or remains a Hindu after marriage. Since her nikahnama shows her name as Shadia Anas, one presumes that at least for the formal ceremony she did convert, for nikahnamas do not recognise the faiths of non-Muslims.

Four, Hindu partisans who turned abusive towards Swaraj should learn a lesson too. They should avoid seeing red whenever they see a Hindu woman marrying a Muslim, and she sometimes converts. In any patriarchy, it is almost always the woman who “adjusts” and converts since it allows her to at least be sure of support from her husband’s family. True inter-faith marriages, where both partners retain their original faiths after marriage, are difficult to detect for outsiders. So, outsiders should avoid coming to conclusions about what the faith of any partner is.

Given the sensitive nature of inter-faith marriages, and since it is usually the woman who compromises in a patriarchal society, all inter-faith marriages should – by law – be recognised only under the Special Marriage Act. Nikahnamas should be evidence of conversion, and not be dubbed inter-faith marriages unless proven otherwise.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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