LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh—”I became ambitious after triple talaq. Now, I have become an unstoppable force,” activist Nida Khan, who has fought against the practice, told us last week. “I want to join the BJP in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The possibility that the 24-year-old law student from Bareilly might join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sparked intense speculation in the media and in Uttar Pradesh’s political circles, largely because she would be one of a handful of Muslim women to join the BJP in the aftermath of the saffron party’s campaign against the practice of triple talaq, or instant divorce.
Modi ji has highlighted the issue of triple talaq in almost every speech he has given in UP over the summer. As a vocal and visibly Muslim opponent of the practice, Khan sees herself as an ideal campaigner for the BJP in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
Last year, Sofia Ahmed from Kanpur — another young triple talaq campaigner — became the Muslim face of the BJP’s state election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, and was rewarded with a position in the Uttar Pradesh State Minorities Commission by the Adityanath government. Earlier this year, Ishrat Jahan, a petitioner in the triple talaq case which led to the Supreme Court banning the practice, joined the BJP in Howrah, West Bengal.
Women like Ahmed and Khan say they are drawn to the BJP to use the party platform to intensify their campaign against the oppressive aspects of Muslim personal law. On problems of cow vigilantism and subsequent mob lynchings prevalent in the country, Khan mounts a valiant defense of the ruling party.
The BJP leadership has pointed at women like them in response to criticism that the party is anti-Muslim. When Shayara Bano, another triple talaq activist joined the BJP last month, the party’s Uttarakhand chief Ajay Bhat said, “Her entry into the BJP is a slap in the face of people who think our party is against Muslims.”
Khan’s negotiated entry suggests that the BJP’s firm stance on the Triple Talaq issue has certainly endeared the party to a certain section of Muslim women, but it remains to be seen how widespread their support is. Khan is aware of the limits of the BJP’s appeal, which could explain her reluctance to embrace the largely thankless work of grassroots mobilisation.
“I want to tell these BJP leaders that the vast majority of Muslims will not vote for the BJP in any case,” Khan said. “But if the BJP speaks against triple talaq, it will encourage Muslim women across the country.”
For over a year, Khan has been creating waves in the Muslim community in Bareilly, highlighting cases of triple talaq and Nikah Halala, the law that requires a Muslim woman to sleep with another man in order to return to her first husband if he has divorced her twice already.
The only thing stopping Khan from joining the BJP is the circumstance of her entry. Joining the party at a district post was out of the question, she said — only a national position would justify the price she would pay for joining a party opposed by many in her community.
Earlier this month, Khan met Uttarakhand Women Empowerment and Child Development Minister Rekha Arya, and told reporters she would definitely join the party. Since then, negotiations seem to have stalled as both sides work out the logistics of this alliance.
“If I join from Bareilly, hardly anyone in the country will even notice, but I will have to face abuse from all sides,” Khan said. “The fundamentalist Muslim men will say that she is betraying Muslims by joining the BJP, while the local BJP leaders will see me as some kind of competition.”
On whether she would consider running as a BJP candidate, Khan said, “We have not seen a burqa–wearing neta yet.”
Just last month, Khan said that a local newspaper in Bareilly published a photo of her without a burqa without her permission. Khan has also found herself at the receiving end of two fatwas: one calling on Muslims to boycott her and pelt her with stones for speaking against the tenets of Islam, and another offering Rs. 12,000 to anyone who chops off her hair.
“After the photo was published, people started saying that I have taken off my burqa because I have joined the BJP,” she said. “They have no right to say such things. If I ever leave the burqa, it will be on my own terms. No one can tell me where and when.”
On why she observes full burqa, Khan said, “The burqa has become part of my identity. I feel like a superhero wearing a mask. If Batman loses his mask, he won’t be Batman anymore. If I lose my burqa, I won’t be Nida Khan anymore.”
“I feel like a superhero wearing a mask. If Batman loses his mask, he won’t be Batman anymore.”
Khan is prepared for a backlash from her own community in Bareilly if she joins the BJP, but the anti-triple talaq activist wants to make sure that any future fatwa that comes her way is “worth it”.
“People are going to say terrible things about me irrespective of where and how I join the BJP, but being on a national stage with PM Modi will give me the recognition I need to make a difference. It will make everything I have endured worth it,” she said.