Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
Desai and the movement that she has inaugurated is an important moment in the
history of Indian women’s movement. At times, it might appear what real
empowerment of women can come through forcing open the doors of temple for
women. Isn’t it the case that all religions of the world are patriarchal and
hence in demanding access to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, aren’t these
women wasting their agency in the reproduction of patriarchy? Wouldn’t it be
better if they concentrated their energies on more fundamental issues like
violence and inadequate representation of women in the public sphere?
arguments do not hold for two very simple reasons. First, it should be left for
the initiators of change to decide what constitutes an important and valuable
arena of transformative action for them. Second, and more fundamentally,
religion may be just other-worldly orientation but its effects are felt deeply
in this world.
religion is embedded into the social structure, any change within the
arrangement of power of this institution (religion), is likely to lead to
changes in other material spheres as well. Religion is often masked as
something which belongs to the symbolic realm. Even this symbolism masks
relations of oppression between those who have power and those who do not. It
is not a surprise therefore that women and low castes, both are ranked at the
bottom of the hierarchy not just symbolically but also materially.
A struggle against the representation encoded
within religion is therefore fundamentally a struggle against the asymmetries
of power within the larger society. And that’s the reason why women like Trupti
must be regarded as vanguards who have not just challenged the status quo but
have also been partially successful at democratising gender space.
attempts till now were aimed at reforming Hindu society. But then gender oppression
is present across all major religions in varying forms. It should therefore not
come as a surprise that now, along with some reformists Muslims, she is part of
the demand to throw open the inner sanctum of shrines for Muslim women.
to be seen what impact this is going to have and what kind of debate this move
will generate. However, the fact the now there is a common platform for Muslim
and Hindu who have vowed to fight together to end gender discrimination is most
welcome. This is also going to be a test for the practice of secularism in the
country. While most progressives end up supporting Hindu reform, the same set
of people have problems coming out in support of Muslim women due to number of reasons, the foremost reason among
them being the position of Muslims in India who are a disadvantaged minority at
many levels. In terms of education, employment and representation, Muslims lag
behind all religious minorities in this country. Moreover, time and again their
backwardness gets related to their religion.
Thus many people think twice before raising
any issue related to the Muslims in India. For them, it is like victimizing the
victim further by putting the burden of reform on their shoulders. Thus one of
the oft repeated suggestions that come from this quarter is that the voice of
social reform should come from within the Muslim community itself. The problem
with this kind of an understanding is that the structure of politics within the
Muslim community is such that it inhibits any kind of reformist voice coming
from within the community. The so called progressives within the community are
thus a very miniscule number of people without any constituency. In no terms
can they be called as a representative voice within the community.
raises a further question which is not just complex but also loaded in this
political context: in an atmosphere where demands are being raised for a
uniform civil code by sections of the government which makes Muslims nervous
and in a societal complex where progressive voices within the community are few
and far in between, should the state intervene in the affairs of the Muslim
community with the express intention of aligning it towards democratic and
progressive interpretation of the their personal laws?
state could intervene in the personal laws of Hindus, then what stops it from
interfering in the personal laws of Muslim community? The issue therefore is
not legal but more of a political nature. In the scenario in which there are
not enough progressive voices within the Muslim community, what is more
important is that the state should pay heed to the minority within Muslims
which is demanding reforms in their religious practices and which they argue is
discriminatory towards women. However, what should be made amply clear that the
lead in this effort should be taken by Muslim women themselves. It is very good
that women like Trupti Desai are willing to lend their shoulders to Muslim
women, but it should not happen that she should be viewed as fighting for the
rights of Muslim women. After, throwing open Muslim religious spaces like
shrines and mosques for women is a Muslim religious issue and it will be
befitting if Muslim women are the ones who take charge of this struggle.
A newageislam.com columnist, Arshad Alam is a
Delhi based writer