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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 12 Jul 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Can Non-Muslims Speak For Muslim Women?


By Anish Gupta and Tamal Dasgupta

12 July 2014

To raise the concerns of women, one does not have to be a woman; to raise the issue of a tribal; one does not need to be a tribal. If we go by the absurd argument of ‘let alone’ or a religious laissez faire, then no one will have any right to speak against domestic violence or dowry system

Equality is an abstract idea which is only made concrete within the legal and constitutional frameworks of a republic. The equality of men and women can be palpably measured in terms of their equality before law. Gender equality as such should become an integral part of any human development index. Evidence from different part of the world shows that more just and equitable societies tend to develop more than inequitable societies. The correlation between equality and development has been highly emphasised by several economists in India and abroad.

It is unfortunate that in India we still lack a legal framework formally guaranteeing gender equality, thanks to various archaic religious codes and acts. They are remnants of a heavily patriarchal past. Such insensitive laws and social norms are hindrance in the proper upbringing of our children who are the citizens of tomorrow. Children then derive their social identity from their father and as a result the role of the mother is denigrated within the family itself. Children thus are scarred with the marks of a constitutionalised, legalised gender inequality as they grow up, and as a result crimes against women continue to escalate in our society.

We do not think that there is anything secular in the policy of seclusion and segregation. India should not be held hostage to the politics of vote bank for eternity.

There have even been demands for exclusion of a certain community from the purview of a new bill related to equal share of woman in their husbands’ property. Surprisingly those who clamour for this segregation of a community from the rest of the society and champion the worst forms of inequality under the name of religiosity claim to be well-wishers of that community.

If polygamy is seen as a divinely sanctioned benefit for men, then the men surely will be a pathetic lot under those divine laws which are hopelessly out of sync with modern and enlightened ideas of equality. Any sensitive man would not derive any pleasure seeing his sister, daughter and mother as victims of these worthless codes of a bygone barbaric era. Men themselves remain backward by stalling women’s rights. Positive discriminations in this regard, like 33 per cent reservation for women in all decision-making democratic bodies from panchayat to Parliament, will be immensely welcome as definite steps towards gender equality.

Women must be freed from the shackles of various religious and feudal codes to achieve gender equality. Let us assert that Hindu marriage act in itself have a lot of outdated provisions. For example, a Hindu man can demand divorce from his wife if she cannot bear a child (if she is sterile), or does not perform orthodox duties as a wife, etc.

The implementation of an enlightened legal framework on the basis of rationality and equality will not only firmly put the Indian women at par with the men but will positively benefit the children which will go a long way in creating a women-friendly atmosphere in society. And we think that this is the crying need of the hour. Besides, equality between men and women would be a much necessary first step for securing dignity for people with alternative sexuality, transgenders, and homosexuals.

Legal equality between men and women can put an end to the severe discrimination practiced in the name of religious codes where women continue to be most deprived. The situation of Muslim women deserves our attention. They appear to be the most deprived lot which is evident in the Sachar Committee report too. Also, Muslim women are the least beneficiary of MNREGA, the scheme which doesn’t even have any restriction or cap on providing work.

It would be a bizarre argument in an open democracy that one should not have any right to criticise malpractices if they are seen to hurt communal sentiments of others. If we logically extend this position, it might mean that just because one is born as a Muslim, one cannot speak about the evils of caste system of Hindu religion and in the same way no one other than a Hindu would have any right to criticise Khap panchayat, sati immolation, dowry system, child marriages, female feticides, etc. Come to think about it: if a case related to caste bias is registered then the inquiry agency as well as the adjudication related to this case cannot consist of Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Do we want this situation in this country?

We hope not. We believe that to raise the concerns of women one does not have to be a woman, to raise the issue of a tribal one does not have to be a tribal. If we go by that absurd argument of ‘let alone’ or a religious laissez faire, then no one will have any right to speak against domestic violence or dowry system as they become family or clan issues and we may not stop a family from carrying out female feticide because it may hurt their patriarchal sentiments. Society will be in trouble and utter chaos will reign. We shall lapse into medieval barbarism and India will become Afghanistan.

We need to discard every archaic law that opposes gender equality. According to Manusmiriti a man can marry in his own Varna as well as to a woman of lower Varna. This implied that a Brahmin could not only marry a Brahmin girl, but also Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra girls. But a Shudra could marry only a Shudra girl. In this way a Brahmin male can marry four girls, Kshatriya three, Vaishya two and the Shudra male can marry only one woman of own Varna. No self-respecting Hindu will accept the diktats of this stupid text today, and in any case the Hindus are not a ‘people of the book’, so to say. The Old Testament says that God created Eve out of a rib of Adam, thus effectively nullifying any possibility that men and women are equal. Shariah, the Islamic jurisprudence has likewise a number of injunctions which uphold gender inequality in a severe form. The fact is that almost every religious text has some outdated and morbid things which may or may not have been well in a particular older context but are certainly not acceptable for any democratic society of 21th century.

Let Alone Principle:

Disastrous Consequences

We have already seen the absurdity of the ‘let alone’ argument. This argument not only smacks of severest illogicality but is potentially hazardous. But unfortunately we have leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar in our midst who continues to champion this line of argument (in a recent debate regarding a uniform civil code in our country he has argued that it should be left alone to the community in question). If we let alone medieval mechanisms like khap panchayat and allow a community decide by itself its laws related to marriages, divorce and compensation, we shall lapse back into a reign of warlords and tribal chieftains and clan rules, and will cease to exist as one Indian nation. But to some extent this is what we are doing by allowing separate religious codes. We should not forget that a community does not have any right to discriminate against its women by citing religious laws, if India is to develop. Also, whom would you call the representative of that community and on what basis? Religious people cannot be considered as representatives of a community as they are not elected deputies. Even the MPs and MLAs belonging to a particular community cannot be considered as the exclusive representatives of that one community, as parliamentary elections in our country are fought on a different basis, and they are representative of all the people of their respective constituencies, not of a particular community.

We rest our case. The basis of formulating the legal framework in a democratic society cannot be communal and religious whims. Let us be guided by the spirit of rationality, equality and justice. Let there be gender equality in our constitutional and legal infrastructure; only then we can ensure overall development of India.

Anish Gupta teaches Economics in University of Delhi. Tamal Dasgupta teaches English in University of Delhi