Indian Muslim women breaking the shackles

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 08, 2020 12:28 hrs
CAA protest

Muslim women's obvious backwardness is something that has been debated for decades. They sit pretty precariously on the margins in a society bisected by backwardness and marginalization within the larger Indian Muslim society. While the overall condition of women in the country has nothing to gloat over, the clergy within the Muslim community, over the last several decades, has ensured that Muslim women remain haunted, voiceless and marginalized.

However, the spate of protests, in the aftermath of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), may change the whole dynamics within the Indian Muslim society. This is something that not many people thought to happen and will be very tough for the clergy to swell. It will be too sour a pill for them to swallow given the fact they have used all their might to keep the womenfolk under their complete stranglehold.

The Muslim clergy has not just kept the women under tight leash, it has also tried to perpetuate patriarchy among them who make fifty percent of the Muslim population in the country, or as much as eight percent of the national population. Following the triple talaq legislation, the clergy, fooling the unsuspecting women, tried to impress upon them if this was something against the women and thus brought them onto roads across the country. However, the entire exercise was not just futile, it was also counterproductive given the fact it was aimed at perpetuating the oppression of the Muslim women at the hands of their men.

Break the shackles

The Muslim women who have been largely confined to their homes have for the first time come onto the streets on their own. This was not something that they planned in advance, or even dreamt, but was forcibly imposed upon them when the collective identity of the community was threatened. Initially it was a trickle of sorts when they joined the massive protests at Jamia, following the brutal police assault on the students of the central university. Some people even frowned upon their coming out of their homes and joining the protests, with many parents visibly very concerned about the safety and security of their daughters. But the trickle converted into massive participation of the women, who ultimately started managing the protest sites in many places, especially, the most talked about protest site of Shaheen Bagh. Here, women from neighborhood, Shaheen Bagh, are sitting on an indefinite dharna, blocking an important artery connecting Noida with upscale neighborhood of Sarita Vihar in Delhi.

The shy demeanor of Muslim girls, mostly in their teens and early twenties and also many in their thirties and forties has changed during the mass mobilization. They seem to be full of confidence, poise and self assurance, something that never seemed to be their trait in the past. If you want to see the change, you will have to join one of those protest sites and see how these protests have galvanized the young Muslim women in the rock solid support base for the community opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act. The women who rarely ventured out of their homes without the company of their men, including fathers, brothers and husbands can be seen leading marches, belligerently raising slogans of Azadi that they seem to have emulated from none other than the left leaning activists.

Status quo quashed

The anti-CAA protests seem to have done a great favor to Muslim women. They have helped the women of the community quash the status quo and break the shackles that had kept them confined to their homes, rarely allowing them to take leadership role and be part of the national mainstream. This is a phenomenal change in a society that abhorred change and allow them some sort of leeway to take control of their lives and in sharing the leadership of the community.

The women who are hogging the limelight in these protests, taking the center stage and controlling the stage and deciding as to who should be allowed to speak are getting on the job training in leadership that the existing Muslim leaders would have never allowed them to acquire. For the Muslim community this is apparently a crisis of sorts and the women who have used the opportunity to assert themselves are going to pose major challenge before the community leadership in the long run. The women, who are apparently enjoying the limelight, are conscious of the fact that this is a major achievement for them. However, they are clear that they are taking the mantle out of necessity and have yet to think of its long-term implications.

Clergy pushed back

The women who have been allowed to manage the protests and in many cases take leadership role, would have no hope had this been something managed by the clergy. They are on the front only because of the fact that these protests are organic in nature and have naturally erupted out of necessity. The massive protests demanding the rollback of triple talaq legislation where burqa clad women made the majority of the audience were stage-managed by none other than the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Thankfully, this time round, not just Muslim law board is absent from the front, other Muslim religious organizations too have been banished by the protesters. Many a time, these outfits with well-oiled machinery, have tried to take charge at different protest sites including the ones in Jamia and Shaheen Bhagh, but each time their efforts have been thwarted by ever vigilant volunteers who are not ready to cede even an inch to religious or political outfits. They have strived not to allow anyone to give it a religious color, therefore making protests all the more charming for people from every religious, caste or regional backgrounds.

The women who are unshackling the chains put in their feet for decades or centuries are obviously asserting themselves. If these protests continue for a few more weeks, it will be well nigh impossible for the clergy to push them back once again. The Muslim women have finally liberated themselves from the clutches of patriarchy and clergy and this will certainly have a profound and long term impact on the community and the country.

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Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October