Tag Archives: Modi

Amid hypocrisy and misogyny, Indian Muslim Women as a ‘double minority’

By Sanober Umar *

The ugly patriarchal politics of ‘Triple Talaq’ or unilateral ‘instant divorce’ through which Indian Muslim men (specifically Sunnis who follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence), can divorce their wives by pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ thrice in a single sentence, has appeared once again in mainstream politics. In this board game played over Muslim women, you have two main players. On the one hand you have the ever-so-vocal and self-proclaimed representatives of Muslims – The All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) – and on the other hand, you have right-wing public figures of Hindutva, including our very own Prime Minister Mr. Modi, shedding tears of concern for Muslim women’s rights.

However Muslim women should not be deemed as agentless victims in this plot, and many are raising their voice against this practice by asserting their Koranic rights. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that while AIMPLB and Hindutva politics may seem to be polar opposites, the two have much more in common when it comes to curbing or denying Muslim women their rights. The male dominated AIMPLB is clearly vested in its project of misogyny even at the cost of denying Muslim women their Islamic right of longer procedures of divorce, that allow time and space for reasonable consideration before annulling a marriage. On the other hand, Hindutva men are no saviours of Muslim women either, as many instances both past and present have shown – including the recent spates of rape and murders ( the Haryana rapes and murders by Gau Rakshaks )and not to forget, the horrifying Muzaffarnagar violence not too long ago).

It is imperative to mention here that the kind of divorce proceedings that the AIMPLB vociferously supports is not only not followed by many sects among Muslims in India including the second largest sect of Indian Muslims, the Shias; but also not in twenty-one other Muslim dominant countries or Islamic states, including Algeria, Turkey and Bangladesh and Pakistan, which have abolished regressive practices such as triple talaaq. It is important to listen to what Indian Muslim women have to say about their own needs and rights, and how they are articulating these. Many directly seek guidance and justice through their recourse to the Koran, in effect not turning necessarily to a secular cosmology for their rights, but one that they maintain that their religion already guarantees them. However more than 50,000 women have been compelled to petition to the courts for justice that they derive from their religion, due to the unethical high-handedness of Muslim patriarchs. Misogynists from AIMPLB continue to slander these individual Muslim activists and organizations such as Bazmee Khwateen, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan and the All Indian Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, in a bid to override their legitimate demands. Even if these men from the Ulema concede that the demands of these women are within the Islamic tradition, they still insist on keeping an anti-women tradition alive, as self-assigned representatives of the Indian Muslim community in India. However, here is where an even more important question arises – who gave AIMPLB the right to declare themselves as spokesperson for the Muslim community?

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Image Courtesy : AFP

It comes as a surprise to many that the AIMPLB is just an NGO. It does not hold any power by itself in relation to the State. It has however managed to garner popular support since the 1985 Shah Bano case, which many have noted transpired in a context where the Congress Party which was at the Centre at the time, overlooked the voices of progressive and reformist Muslims. Not a single member of the AIMPLB has been democratically elected. It is a body of mostly handpicked Muslim men who join the ranks simply based on their self-projection as scholars of Islam or social connections, with a large following of poor Muslims, many of whom as mentioned earlier, are too illiterate to even know the depths of debates and dialogues in their own faith, and therefore follow whatever these imams have to say especially at a time when they feel vulnerable as minorities in an increasingly radicalized Hindutva State. Ultimately, the Indian State historically has been conspicuously active in erasing Muslim women’s rights by according a degree of legitimacy to AIMPLB which can be over-ridden easily if the State chooses to do so, especially given how Muslim women’s rights are being evaded in such a blatant fashion and against their constitutional rights as Indian individuals.Meanwhile, the right-wing Hindu BJP claims that it cares for Indian Muslim women, which is news for Indian Muslim women themselves.

Modi in a recent speech, shedding tears for Indian Muslim women, made remarks about how the Muslim community must come together and discuss this issue to guarantee rights for women facing misogynistic oppression through laws like the triple talaq. One may certainly agree with our Prime Minister on this point. It only seems to be a fair demand. But the politics of Muslim marginalization in India is interwoven with Hindutva demonization of the community, including positing themselves as being the bastions of women’s rights when the truth is far from it. One cannot help but wonder why our Prime Minister remains silent, let alone shed tears, for Muslim women who suffer from the violence of Hindu right-wingers? Muslim women have been brutally tortured and killed in several riots by Hindus since our Prime Minister came to power. Justice still remains to be sought for the women victims of Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar and Haryana very recently. It should not come as a surprise than that many within the Muslim community have noted this hypocrisy and taken it to social media, reminding our Prime Minister of his silence in cases such as Mewat rapes, the trauma that Bilkis Bano and several other women underwent during the Gujarat riots, Insha Malik who lost her vision in Kashmir during peaceful protests or Najeeb’s mother still searching for her son who disappeared after Hindutva goons beat him up in JNU recently. In fact, Mr. Modi’s tears is one of the premises that AIMPLB uses to its leverage when it claims that the State wants to infringe the community’s collective identity, but does not care about its interests or intervene in other situations that demand institutional inclusion and protection of minorities.

However now that Prime Minister Modi is on board for the rights of women by expressing concern especially for minority Muslim women, one would hope that our PM would extend the same empathy to his own wife, Jashodaben, whom he abandoned after his marriage. After all, the personal is political as many feminists have observed, and he would set a good example for men and women in the whole country with such a gesture of kindness towards women in his personal life. Right? Reiterating the thread of this article in sum: the Ulema of AIMPLB wants to protect Muslim patriarchy and maintain its power among the largely illiterate population of Indian Muslims, and Hindutva figures want to malign Islam in order to demonize a discriminated minority while omitting their own oppression of Muslim women. They both need each other to mutually constitute and reaffirm each other’s power and popularity in their voter demographics. One is a non-State actor, and other is the government itself.But Indian Muslim women are not in the fringes of this debate anymore, and they are finding ways to empower themselves as women and as Muslims, who carry the burden of being a ‘double minority’ in spaces occupied by misogynists on the one hand and hypocrites on the other.

* This blogpost was written by Sanober Umar. It first appeared in Kafila.

Sanober is a PhD student in History at Queen’s University in Canada. 

Hindutva and the Politics of Cleaning

Before the Hindu Führer (read Narendra Modi) falls back to his usual, even inevitable, ‘politics of cleansing’, he strayed to a ‘politics of cleaning’. Just as Hindutva is a project of purging Hinduism of its constitutive divisions, its long-standing tendency to be above the rough and tumble and the reach of temporal power, its reflective cowardice, the dynamics of which were detailed in the work of probably the greatest of Indian historians D. D. Kosambi, who is not much known even within the country.

Another way is to see Hindutva as a sincere attempt to model Hinduism after Sangh’s own distorted picture of global Islam. The latest move of Führer’s might as well be an attempt to address the Hindu civilization’s most glaring paradox: the inversely proportional relation between its ritualistic obsession with purity and its spectacularly ghastly uncleanliness for all the world to see and smell. Hindutva is a sort of public-spirited Hinduism. As sociologists have long known and even can be accused of making a fetish of it, purity is central to Hinduism, just as it is for fascism. Hindutva, a murderous mixture of both, obviously will have to resolve the issue of purity, in new ways for new times of accelerated tourism and globalization, future war and ongoing genocide.

This apparently pseudo gesture with the broom would invariably go beyond the Führer’s initial and limited intentions, which, I guess, include, bringing back to his fold, the estranged kin of Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party), with a propaganda (arm) twist—with this, the surprising anomaly of Arvind Kejriwal (Leader of Common Man’s Party whose election symbol is broom) being the only heroic fighter against Modi is smoothed out (I am borrowing here from a wit named Uday Chandra (a scholar based in Gottingen), minus his laconic brilliance; appealing to the international community’s image of Gandhi and releasing Gandhi from the hijackers of Nehru Family and restoring him to where he properly belongs (Sangh), and addressing something real which strikes every Non-Indian or Non-Resident Indian upon hearing the word ‘India’, but rarely uttered, either out of politeness or apathy, in that order: the inhuman, barbaric state of Indian public places.

Image 1: Narendra Modi during a 'Clean India' campaign launch in Newd Delhi

Image 1: Narendra Modi during a ‘Clean India’ campaign launch in New Delhi

If traditional Hinduism and its colonial and post-colonial accomplice states forced particular region-specific castes with the burden of cleaning all the filth that cannot be left in private and public spaces, the Führer, for a moment, nationalised it before international cameras turned away from him. There is a certain fakery, dishonesty, even mockery in this spectacle, which will any way be exposed and ripped apart by critical observers and social media. Such work is absolutely important. But, who is not a hypocrite when it comes to the question of manual scavenging and sanitation labour? Not even Dalits (former untouchable castes) and Dalit champions, if one observes critically.

I am yet to come across a fellow Dalit or Marxist activist from Mala, Mahar, Madiga, Paraiyar, Chamar or Paswan who has fallen in love with a person from Safai Karamchari community. My own community is into manual scavenging in Chennai, where I studied and worked, even as we back in Andhra had been liberated from it more than a generation ago. In the mainstream or even radical Dalit discourses and politics, focus on this inhuman institution is as marginal as the very important issue of the Hindu state of India’s war on Tribals.

However, this state of affairs doesn’t stop individuals from relatively advanced Dalit castes, such as mine, from invoking the institution of ‘manual scavenging’ to convince the skeptics, apologists and denialists, routinely. Still, none of the rights thus achieved, by convincing or coercing those in power to spare some meager resources, have served to address the forced sanitation work in subhuman conditions.

Few Ambedkarite associations care to take up even symbolic struggles, either against this inhuman institution or for the welfare of those stuck in the profession concerned. Let alone the actual work, there isn’t even as much as serious discussion about it as an important responsibility of organizations. No wonder then, that the pressing task of welfare of the cleaning workers, before the eradication of such work, is left with NGOs who are alleged to be among the most corrupt where the biggest of such organisation ironically operates from Gujarat, and which is in cahoots with the Führer, during 2002 and since.

Though these funded reformers roped in the greatest activist for this cause, Bezawada Wilson (a well-known Dalit activist working to eradicate manual scavenging), they succeeded in keeping Dalits away from any anti-fascist politics and surely from the stated task of improving the lot of manual scavengers and eradication of the repugnant vocation.

Image 2: A Conservancy worker cleaning a choked drain by manually entering a manhole in India, via The Hindu

Image 2: A Conservancy worker cleaning a choked drain by manually entering a manhole in India

So, nobody is clean as far as this institution of compelling one community to clean up everybody’s filth goes. Modi is not the only hypocrite in this. There is only one ultimate solution for the twin problems of ubiquitous filth in our habitats, and one people being laden with the task of cleaning it, based on their birth. That is, ensuring that the cleaning job is not unclean either in its process or the society’s perception of those involved in it.

Before this is achieved, conditional as it is upon changes in infrastructure, attitudes and Dalit activism’s priorities, the work of cleaning is to be universalized. Smart-sounding solutions that each must take care of the filth they create do not always work in the prevailing conditions. Let there still be the practice of some people cleaning the filth created by society, but those some people need not be the same ones always. This responsibility can rotate.

Cleaning service should be made compulsory for everybody irrespective of their regular profession. Trust me, once non-Dalits are compelled to do it, working conditions, workers’ rights, technological interventions, and funding will dramatically improve. For this to happen, the communities confined to, or forced into this profession are to be targeted for alternative employment, through education and cultural change, not just among these communities, but also among those forcing them into such condition.

This is possible only through sincere work by Dalit organizations, which is again conditional upon such organizations ceasing to be the exclusive preserves of government employees from single better-off castes of respective regions. So, first universalize sanitation work, before its final eradication. One might think it is unrealistic suggestion, or, at least, a distant dream. If this doesn’t happen– sure it will not, even through the most serious exertion of dictatorial powers of the Führer (who is going to only tighten screws on the polity and bureaucracy)– if not accompanied by Dalit activism.

If not diverted to the real purpose and challenges of sanitation, the theme of purity will only grow to its sanguinary overtones, from further sexual repression of all women to younger generation in general, to further vilification of Muslim slum dwellers, to war on Love Jihad (an alleged campaign against Muslim youth that they force conversion of non-Muslim girls to Islam feigning Love), to cleansing streets of the unsightly populations, mono-religious gated communities, stigmatization of meat-shops and many more such countless ways of branding, to a radical cleansing of a people.

This feature was written by Chittibabu Padavala.

Chittibabu Padavala is a Dalit activist based in Hyderabad. He can be contacted via email at dalitsociologist@gmail.com

Image Source: Image 1 via NBC; Image 2 via The Hindu