KANPUR, Uttar Pradesh — How does Sofia Ahmed, a 25-year-old Sunni woman, reconcile being the new Muslim face of the Bharatiya Janta Party in Uttar Pradesh; a party whose politics is largely based on demonising the Muslim community?
For Ahmed, a striking woman with blue-green eyes and brown hair with gold highlights, the answer is Triple Talaq.
"The worst day of my life was the day my husband gave me talaq, but it also turned out to be the best day," Ahmed recalled in a recent conversation. "I realized my capabilities after the divorce. Today, I'm strong and independent. I'm achieving things."
In a span of two years, Ahmed, a single mother divorced by the triple talaq provision of Muslim personal law, has gone from being a battered bride to a member of the Uttar Pradesh State Minorities Commission, a statutory body chosen by the state government headed by Yogi Adityanath: a man accused of inciting communal riots and addressing public rallies threatening violence against Ahmed's community.
Her dramatic rise encapsulates a moment in India's religious politics where the BJP's strategy to use particularly patriarchal aspects of Muslim personal law to weaken the the clergy, has opened up space for young women like Ahmed.
Ahmed's choices offer an insight into how Muslim women negotiate the demands for a Uniform Civil Code, an arguably secular project now associated with the Hindu right.
"I would love to keep moving ahead, fight elections, become a leader," Ahmed said. "Perhaps, I can be the first BJP politician for whom Muslims vote."
Perhaps, I can be the first BJP politician for whom Muslims vote.
A different life
Ahmed grew up in a wealthy leather-trading family in Kanpur, and married a man from politically influential family with close links to the Samajwadi Party.
In her year-long marriage, Ahmed said, she was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, who - she said - also cheated on her. One night, Ahmed alleges, her husband came home drunk,...