February-March  2004 
Year 10    No.96

Cover Story

The Indian Muslim woman
Drowned voices

Education, Security, Employment then Justice is what Muslim women want,
but who is listening?


Whenever Muslim society is being discussed, what do Muslim political and religious leaders say? They are the ones who are heard. And only these leaders, responsible for posturing and representing Muslims as the ‘enemy’, are listened to. Only the issues raised by them are discussed across the length and breadth of the country. As if there are no other issues, key issues before Muslims. Or else, the real issues can then remain concealed and do not come to the fore.

When the real issues before the Muslim community, in general, are not properly represented in Indian public discourse, how can the real issues before ordinary, toiling Muslims ever come to the fore, less still the issues of the ordinary Muslim woman be properly represented?

A common picture that is deliberately painted before the public is that Muslim personal law and Muslim personal law alone, is the bane of all Muslim women. They face no other problems; there are no other issues before them.

The forces of Hindutva and its politics, which have been in the business of provoking every section of Indians against Indian Muslims even Adivasis and Dalits, have also manipulated and misused the issues faced by Muslim women to demonise the whole community.

Within this politics, what does the ordinary Muslim woman wish to say? No one wants to listen. No one wants to project or feature the ordinary Muslim woman and the issues faced by her. During a research fellowship, I had the opportunity of rigorously addressing this question. The issues and dilemmas faced by the Indian Muslim woman, countrywide, were expressed as follows. First, the key issue for her is the issue of education. Second is the issue of security (for herself, as a Muslim woman, and her community). The third key concern is employment and the fourth, Muslim personal law.

In 1992, when the Babri Masjid was destroyed by the forces of Hindutva, subsequent tensions and pogroms took place countrywide. In Mumbai, the attacks on Muslims were unprecedented. Despite and in spite of this, in the course of this research fellowship that took place a few years later, Muslim women accorded greater priority to education.

When Muslim women were asked the question, for what do they feel sorrow and where lies satisfaction or happiness, the answer was – when both social groups live together there is happiness and when there is strife there is sorrow. Therefore we want peace.

Muslim women also expressed great sadness that their country could not provide employment to their sons and brothers. "Jab hamare ladkon ko Gulf mulkon mein jaana padta hai rojgar ke liye to bahut dukh hota hai – Kya hamara desh unhe rojgar nahin de sakta kya?"

The same Muslim women used to say even then, "We want justice for our questions from our courts not from the Jamaat. We have chosen/voted for our government, we have not chosen our Jamaat."

Today where are these same Muslim women being pushed? After Gujarat, they say that when our social group itself may not survive, what will we do with legal rights?

The primary priorities of the ordinary Muslim woman have been set – The safety of life and possessions and property. But no political party wishes to explicitly state its commitment to this value and express priority for this issue. Even today, neither politics nor politicians wish to listen to or address the real issues concerning Muslim women or Muslim society.

Addressing these issues could mean addressing the key factors that lie behind the tensions that today exist between Hindu and Muslim social groups. Instead, the tensions are festered and fanned so that political power may be gained.

But the key demands of Muslim women, which are peace, security, education and employment, and legal rights, remain. And slowly but surely, Muslim women are working towards convincing Muslim society as a whole about their demands. The struggle for the very existence of the Muslim minority under these changed circumstances has begun.

(Razia Patel is a feminist, academician and a Muslim woman activist).


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