Indian Muslim women largely invisible in empowerment schemes and now target of Hindutva hate too
The stark fact that stands out is this: Muslim women are disadvantaged on three fronts — as women, as members of a minority community, and most of all as poor women
What's on! Halt this politics of Hate!
It's just too horrifying and sickening to see that Hindutva politics of hate has reached this level of the unthinkable lows; manufacturing of websites to put up photographs of Muslim women…hitting a community that already stands shattered. Constant onslaughts, official or unofficial, targeting Muslim women, children and youth continue unabated.
Facts about the Muslim community are out there in the open, documented in the reports of the Sachar Committee, Gopal Singh Committee, Kundu Committee. These reports carry details to the dismal conditions faced by the Muslim community.
There are also detailed reports on the condition of the Muslim women in the country. The stark fact that stands out is this: Muslim women are disadvantaged on three fronts — as women, as members of a minority community, and most of all as poor women.
In fact, over ten years back, when Professor Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon’s book ‘Unequal Citizens: A study of Muslim Women in India’ was launched, it brought immediate focus on the condition of the Muslim women. Their findings were based on a survey of 10, 000 households in 12 States and spread over 40 districts.
As Professor Zoya Hasan commented, "The survey shows the state of the Muslim women is dismal …the image of the Muslim woman is frozen, that of a veiled woman and that all her problems have to do with her religion, but this is not the actual reality. We have studied her socio-economic state, her education, the employment opportunities, welfare schemes and political awareness. Also, gender issues which revolve around marriage, violence at home, decision-making and mobility. We have also compared their status and conditions with Hindu women. What stands out is the fact that the status of Muslims as also women varies from region to region of the country — Muslims in South India are slightly better off than their counterparts in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh."
She also detailed, “Muslim women have made few tangible gains more than seven decades of development. They are conspicuous by their absence in the world of politics, in the professions, bureaucracy, universities, and public and private sectors. They rarely figure in the debates on empowerment, poverty, education or health, nor does their vulnerability arouse much concern. Muslim women are disadvantaged thrice over as members of the minority community, as women and as poor women. They remain largely invisible in programmes for the empowerment of religious minorities. For instance, there has not been enough progress for Muslim women in education, employment, skill development and access to basic amenities.”
The poor socio-economic conditions is not a feature exclusive to Muslim women but it does get aggravated by their marginalized status in the overall context of the social disadvantages they face.
Another grim fact stands out— on one hand, though a large number of Muslim women voted and also participated in the election process, but on the other hand, only a very small number have been elected to office. Muslim women found it harder to get elected. Their participation hampered both by their gender and as well as their minority religious status.
And much against all the hype created by the Hindutva lot, on the issue of ‘triple talaq’, it stands bypassed by the community itself, as it is not Islamic.
The fact is that today Muslim women's status is getting affected and diminished and threatened by the Hindutva brigades and the politics of hate is getting unleashed at an alarming pace.
Every single day there is a fresh onslaught. The latest is the new farmaan issued by the ministry of AYUSH, where they have launched the Surya Namaskar programme…Said to be made compulsory or mandatory for school children from all religions.
This is unfair and unjust, to say the least. Why make such practices compulsory when it could get difficult if not impossible for Muslim children. After all, as Muslims, they cannot bow before anyone except his or her Creator.
Instead of encouraging children from the minority community to enroll in government schools, here come up all these new dictates which will see a further setback for the Muslim child and his or her survival.
Rajesh Khanna carried a personality
Last week, Rajesh Khanna’s 79th birthday passed by. He was born on 29 December 1942, in Amritsar. I wanted to write in my last week’s column about my two interviews with him, way back in 1991, but space constrains stared in the face. But this week I’m somehow determined to focus on him, as he carried a certain personality. Well read, he was suave and sophisticated.
Rajesh Khanna was then, in 1991, the Congress candidate against BJP leader LK Advani from the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency— an election the BJP stalwart almost lost to the star. Khanna lost to Advani by a narrow margin of 1589 votes, after which Khanna stood on the ground at the counting station insisting that he had been cheated of a win…Advani had to vacate the constituency and a by-election took place and Khanna won the same seat in 1992 defeating Shatrughan Sinha by 25,000 votes.
And during that election phase Rajesh Khanna was camping in New Delhi for months at a stretch. I had met and interviewed him on two occasions.
Before I write the details of those interviews, I must recount the endless hours spent in trying to meet him at his Vasant Kunj apartment which he’d later claimed was his friend’s. His cranky sounding cook who had taken the initial telephone calls sounded impolite. Then, after much persistence when I did manage to get through to his political Press secretary, a particular time was allotted at the Wellington Road situated office. When I reached there at the appointed time, there was no sign of Rajesh Khanna. I had no choice but to sit and hear Khanna’s election manager Dr Roshan Lall’s talks. And finally, after a couple of hours, he’d uttered, “Rajesh Khanna is still with the PM …will be very late, so try tomorrow.” And to my parting query- Is there any hope for tomorrow? Dr Roshan Lall came up with a poetic one liner “ummeed par hee to duniya kayam hai.”
So, the next meeting was fixed for the next day. This time at a particular nursing home situated in South Delhi. Why this nursing home? Is he ill? “No, no he is not ill …this nursing home belongs to his close friend and he meets a lot of people there as there is a lot of ‘shanti’ there!”
And there at that nursing home I finally managed to meet Rajesh Khanna. He sat there with several Congress workers standing around him. He looked changed from the last time I had seen him, a year back …Yes, about 12 or 13 months back he seemed in the pink of health but now his complexion seemed replaced by a dark tanned brown, his hair dwindling but well coloured /dyed, his face carried marks and his right hand bandaged. And to top it all, the white kurta on him looked somewhat crumpled and the white seemed less white and more along the creamy white strain.
Seeing and sensing a dazed look on my face, he replied in a calm and subdued way, “ Actually I got hurt yesterday …was visiting the Sunlight colony and the people there got so excited that they opened the gates with a bang and one of that gates hit my hand.”
My first query was about the chaos in his electioneering campaign. Why?
“Yes, I know there is lot of disorder at this moment. My candidature was announced rather late, so my campaign also started late. Even now my campaign is at the take off stage, yet to be air borne!”
Your rival candidate Shatrughan Sinha’s entire family is managing most of his election work .Do you think this - that is family involvement - makes some difference?
“Can’t say. My wife and children are in London. They’d be back on June 1. Actually Dimple’s mother is very ill, so she has taken her there.”
Surely she could have joined you earlier?
“Actually they will come when I want them to come.” (looks hurt and at a loss for words but puts up a brave front …Also a definite emphasis on ‘ I’)
Don’t you think that this chaos in your organisational set up could mar your campaign?
“Unlike Shatrughan Sinha I’m not bothered about publicity. I believe in naam through kaam.”
What has been the main thrust of your election campaign?
“Local problems, local issues. My focus has been on the working women. I feel there should be an option of part -time jobs for working women, they should be posted at the nearest office (nearest to their homes) so that they save time whilst commuting. I know life is very tough for a working woman. I am going to ease her working conditions, the problem she faces, those everyday struggles she faces whilst commuting, or at her workplace…I must also tell you that in my election campaigns I am not hitting against my opponent Shatrughan Sinha, as it is his communal party, the BJP, I am fighting against.”
Have you been meeting Shatrughan Sinha?
“Yes, off and on. At the airport, during flights…”
But he has denied meeting you?
“Well …well, he knows better! What else can I say!
Is there infighting at the campaign set up level? Also, wasn’t Jag Pravesh Chandra initially appointed to be your campaign manager, so why this change?
“No , there is no infighting. Ours is a democratic political party where every member expresses himself. The party has appointed RKD ( RK Dhawan ) as the campaign manager and I don’t interfere.”
Your views on the Ayodhya temple?
“It is for the high command to decide.”
Surely you’ll be having your personal views and viewpoints on this?
“I feel that let this issue be decided either through the Courts or let the elders decide. Personally I feel that there should be no demolishing and no construction either at the disputed site for the sake of harmony …No construction and no demolition at the cost of communal disharmony.”
It is said that during the past one year you didn’t do much for the New Delhi constituency. Comment.
“What! What else have I been doing! In fact, from the past one year I have been here, working in the slums and in the jhuggi - jhopri areas. I have been so involved working here that that the last film I had produced - Jai Shiv Shankar - has been lying all complete, awaiting its release but I have found no time for its release. Ask the people of Delhi how much I have been doing in the slums, jhuggis bastis. But, of course, not much has been written about because I hate publicity.”
What if you lose this election, would you go back to Bombay? “Bhai, I have been repeatedly saying and stressing that winning or losing is not important for me. It is immaterial for me. I am going to be here, whether I win or not win.”
When I had interviewed you last year you sounded irritable and snappy. Have you managed to maintain your cool?
“Maybe this time your questions are not provocative!”
Views are personal