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Published On:26 January 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Azadi versus Fundamentalism

The Jamaat-e-Islami has demanded that co-education be abolished in India to prevent rapes

By Fahad Hashmi

‘For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.’ – Virginia Woolf

There seems to be a structural resemblance among fundamentalists of all hues, evident from their comments in the wake of the 16 December gangrape in New Delhi of a 23-year-old woman who subsequently died from her injuries. Just like RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat had opined that rapes happen in India and not in Bharat, the Jamaat-e-Islami has also submitted an 11 point recommendation to the Justice JS Verma Committee, which the government has constituted to suggest changes required in existing laws to provide better security to women in India. Two points out of the 11 that the Jamaat-e-Islami, a politico-religious organisation whose ultimate goal is to bring khilafa (creating God’s kingdom) on Earth, has proposed are worth our attention. (For details look up: http://jamaateislamihind.org/eng/ban-co-education-live-in-relationships-to-prevent-rapes-jamaat-e-islami-hind/).

First, (3) Co-education should be abolished and proper education facilities meant for women only should be available at all levels of education.

Second, (4) Educational institutions should prescribe sober and dignified dress for girls.


How should one look at this take from the Jamaat? It has its roots in history. The Jamaat is afraid of gharabzadgi, an Iranian concept prevalent in the 1960s – 70s, which is often translated as ‘Westoxication’, “Westitis”, “Westmania”, etc. These terms denote an illness, a virus, a plague from the West, which has a devastating effect on any culture or community. It is a very common perception among these patriarchs and self-proclaimed guardians of a community that women are most vulnerable to this gharabzadgi. Therefore, through women, the warp and weft of the social fabric would be easily contaminated and then this gharabzadgi will wreak havoc on the Muslim culture. They also want to make us understand about the ‘evils’, which Europe and the US owe to the desegregation of the sexes, and the shamelessness and immodesty of contemporary Western culture. To score points over the West they place Islamic rights and stereotyped roles for women in opposition to the eroticised other — in this case the Western civilisation. As per their understanding, the female body provokes men and arouses them sexually and hence endangers moral behaviour so women must not take part in the public sphere. Therefore, the best way to arrest crimes against women is to house arrest them, either by imposition or by coercion. Such mentality and mindset makes legitimate, in many areas of the Islamic world, women’s surveillance by the family, community, and the state.

If one looks at the Jamaat in its entirety, one finds that the sine qua non of its existence is to make a pious society, take a cue from Shariah. In the traditional set-up men are supposed to be the breadwinners and hence the public sphere is their exclusive domain. Certainly, this implies that the private sphere belongs to the female sex, and their domestication and inferior designation euphemistically makes them the ‘Queen of the House’! In other words, Jamaat approves and endorses patriarchy, and to this end it quotes scriptures where the mard (male) becomes the qawwam (guardian) of the ‘second sex’. This implies the super-ordination of men and subordination of women.

But we do not live in the Victorian society where women were forced to wear chastity belts. We have a democracy, even if a weak one. Times have changed and the new educated generation wants to come out of this ‘church, children and chars’ trap. We cannot domesticate them anymore using the tools of shastras, shariah, sanskriti and sabhyata, as individual liberty is the supreme right of our time and cannot be compromised anymore. Moreover, this generation is not going to let their bodies be a site of contestation between tradition and modernity.

The important point that these fundamentalist organisations need to note is that there is no escaping modernity. Coming to terms with it would require a kind approach and a level of ingenuity they need to develop. Islam is not resistant to change as some make it out to be. That Islam is not change-proof can be known from a comparison of the laws and customs prevalent in the time of Hazrat Umar, who was one of the most powerful and influential Muslim rulers of the 6th century. I am neither professing the mindless borrowings of the Western category of thought nor advocating that we become a cultural clone of the West to be modern. However, we need to know that there is a wide difference between the Shariah (Islamic jurisprudence) and the Holy Scripture. The latter is divine and the former is a social construct. Shariah came into being long ago to solve the problems of people of a particular time and space at a specific point of history. Over time the human civilisation has taken a long stride, and the scale and scope of human understanding have increased manifold with subtle and nuanced dimensions. Consequently, society faces a good number of new problems. Those old solutions are not relevant today. Therefore we cannot equate Islam with conventionality and self-righteousness. Neither can its teachings be considered puritanical and patriarchal. On the contrary, we have to admit that gender bias is the Achilles’ heel of the Indian Muslims. The Muslim society, rather any society, cannot progress leaving behind half of a nation’s population. To empower the community, we have to empower our women.

Every structure which feeds upon and sustains gender inequality is bound to be challenged and face unprecedented eruption of mass protests filled with angst, anger and aggression. Women from within the community have been putting a good deal of effort in fighting their structural marginalisation as well as freedom from oppression. But their jihad still has a long way to go. In fact, reviving a radical jihad, for the restoration of their right, honour, dignity, and freedom from fear of all sorts should be in its essence. Amen, I would say!

[Fahad Hashmi is pursuing MPhil in Sociology from DSE, University of Delhi.]

(Courtesy: Tehelka)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on January 26, 2013. Filed under , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on January 26, 2013. Filed under , , , , , , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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