In the article , I will be analysing the intersection of religion and patriarchy and how the patriarchal interpretation of the religion and the appeasement politics of the state lead to the oppression of Indian Muslim women and how far the voices of Indian Muslim women for autonomous action in the face of often overwhelming cultural sanctions and structural inequalities are heard and documented in the name of ” emancipation” and “liberation.” How far is an Indian Muslim woman an independent human being, abiding by the rules and regulations of the state? Also, how far is her participation in the economic, political, and social welfare of the state a matter of women’s empowerment and not merely a matter of appeasement politics just for the sake of a vote bank?
Feminist theories claim that women’s lives are constructed by multiple, intersecting systems of operation. Intersectionality has become the predominant way of conceptualising the relationship between systems of oppression that construct our multiple identities and our social locations in heirarchies of power and privilege.
Kimberle Williams Crenshaw introduced the metaphor of “intersectionality” to critique dominant conceptions of oppression and discrimination. She asks us to consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. It may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars travelling from any number of directions, and sometimes, all of them. (p.306,The Concept of Intersectionality in Feminist Theory). Similarly, if a Muslim woman is harmed because she is at an intersection, her injury could result from gender discrimination or manipulation of the understanding of the textual religion.
Indian Muslim women fall under two broad categories.
Education, rights, vision, position in society, economic participation, social image, every parameter is influenced by the decision-makers. In the case of Indian women in general and Muslim women in particular , the decision-makers are either the males of their house or the ruling elite.
For instance, in April 1985, India’s highest judiciary court, the Supreme Court, gave a momentous judgement related to the maintenance given to Shah Bano, a divorced Muslim woman. The verdict was seen as a threat to Islamic Law ( Shariah) and evoked strong passions and led to massive agitation among Muslims. A powerful section of Muslim opinion, represented by Jamat-ul-Ulema-i-hind, the Jamat-e-Islami, and the Muslim League, denounced the judgement and organised a crusade against what they termed as interference in Muslim personal laws.
Alarmed by the intensity of the agitation, the government enacted legislation—the Muslim Protection of Rights on Divorce Bill, 1986, so as to appease Muslim opinion, but besides being a secular law, Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which guaranteed maintenance to indigent women, was amended to exclude Muslim women from its purview. The major question of concern from the Shah Bano controversy is: how did Muslim women, in general, respond to the controversy generated by the Supreme Court and the Muslim Women Bill? Also, why did the government introduce the amendment that curtailed the rights of Muslim women? The appesment of Muslim male voters was more important than the rights of Muslim women.
The Muslim community has resisted change in personal law on the argument that it is an integral part of the socio-religious identity of the community. A section of the Muslim community has constantly tried to politicise religion as a means of safeguarding the community’s separate and distinct identity.
According to Gail Minault, the political movements among Muslims in the 1920s were to foster unity among the “believers” and to enhance their bargaining position, but in the post-independence period, this symbolism has come to rest entirely on laws pertaining to family and women.
The Muslim Personal Law affects women adversely and directly. Their position under this provision is unequal. A Muslim man can marry four wives. A woman can be divorced by the unilateral pronouncement of triple talaq ( but now the Indian Parliament has approved a bill that makes the Muslim practise of instant divorce a criminal offense), but in reality, the law is against Muslim women and marginalises them even if they have even one child. It forces a woman to stay in a marriage with an imprisoned man who has verbally and emotionally abused her. It puts the burden of proof on Muslim women and forces them into impoverishment. The current concern is related to the choice of clothing for Muslim women. To cover one’s head is considered an example of oppression, and the irony is that male lawmakers are deciding what to wear and what not to. If patriarchy is about forcefully wearing a hijab, then it is also about forcefully removing the hijab. The agency of Indian Muslim women is under question. It is to be noted that Muslim women aren’t homogenous and are differentiated along the fault line of class, caste, community, and region. Their lives are similarly located at the intersection of gender, family, and community within the dynamic context of Indian society, polity, and economy. They are stereotyped as oppressed, desirous of emancipation, and the image of marginalised Muslim women is frequently used to advocate for change in the name of triple talaq, purdah, multiple marriages, and so on.Muslims are a heterogeneous minority. They have had a “other” status for a long time, which has made them vulnerable to discrimination. (See Unequal Citizen, p. 5)
According to some Islamic feminists, instead of reading the Quran in a thematic or holistic manner, the patriarchal interpretations have led to methodological approaches that interpret the central conflicting versus independent of other verses. This is problematic and leads to gender inequality.
Through feminine ijtihad (independent reasoning) and religious interpretations of the rights of women, Islamic feminists have been trying to challenge the misogynist Islamic doctrines that underlie discriminatory attitudes and policies. According to them, Islam has evolved in ways that are detrimental to women’s rights not because Islam in its essence is incompatible with gender equality but because of the hegemony of the patriarchal interpretations that warped Islamic law. In the name of Islam and state-sanctioned patriarchy, Muslim women face a wide range of abominable practises and unjust laws that not only ensure their subjugation but also brand them as second-class citizens. Minorities Among Minorities
The contention is that religious attitudes and practises that contribute to gender discrimination are really not inherent within Islam as a religion. Due to the double level of discrimination, Muslim women probably comprise the poorest and most disadvantaged group in the country.
The Agency of Muslim Women:
Low decision making is the general condition of Indian women, but writing specifically about Indian Muslim women, their decision making is highly influenced by lived Islam and patriarchy. Textual Islam promised them their rights, representation, and emancipation, but lived Islam is influenced by the evils prevalent in Indian society and limits the agency of Muslim women.
A study done by Zoya Hassan and Ritu Menon in the book, Unequal Citizen, related to the autonomy in decision-making with respect to education, number of children, media exposure of Indian Muslim women, etc., concludes that women have a strong say when the question is related to domestic activities, i.e., what to cook, etc. Instead of household expenditure, number of children, children’s education,marriage, birth and death certificates, major illness, travel, purchases, and major investments, Bina Agarwal points out that decision-making in families is itself a complex process, allowing for differences in individual preference( man over woman), in budget constraints, and control over resources.
A Muslim woman who is forced to look after her house, take care of her child isn’t allowed to take part in any activity. Outside the “chadar” and “char diwari”, she has a voice to be heard.
Naila Kabeer argues that agency has both positive and negative meanings in relation to power. Women exercise very little agency in making those critical decisions that affect their own lives. How much to study? Which subject to study? When and with whom to marry? What should I do? Which healthcare facility should I use? How many children do you have? Whether or not to practise contraception? Where to live? Which locality to live in? The question of mobility and clothing The majority of the options are controlled by the men of the houses. Patriarchal control overrides other material constraints.
According to Srilatha Bathiwala, men’s traditional power over women in their households is reinforced by control over their bodies and physical mobility; by the right to abdicate from all responsibility for housework and care of the children; the right to physically abuse or violate her; the right to spend family income on personal pleasures; the right to abandon her to take other wives etc. (Pages 148–149) Unequal Citizen
To conclude, I reject the commonly held view that religion is responsible for the marginalisation of Muslim women. Every parameter, be it poverty, unemployment, marriage at an early age, is not just due to lived Islam but also due to other critical factors such as location, socio-economic condition, class, and appeasement politics of the state in the name of development, liberation, and emancipation. The intersection of gender, religion, and patriarchy is responsible for creating inequality and subordination of Muslim women. India’s development policies regarding Muslim women should not only focus on religious reforms, but also on social reforms that will assist them in locating and participating in our nation’s development process. Their voice is as important as the other citizens’, and recognition isn’t a man’s responsibility. Muslim women need to be in politics, and they need to be more than just names on a list.
- (Eds)Tabassum, Gender Inclusion in India: Challenges and Strategies. Aakar Publication
- Carasthathis, Anna The Concept Of Intersectionality in Feminist Theory
- Hassan, Minority Identity, Muslim Women Bill Campaign and the Political Process.
- Hasan, , & Menon, R. (2004). Unequal citizens: A study of Muslim women in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.