Plan to exclude women working with precision | Gajanan Khergamker

Plan to exclude women working with precision

Jammu and Kashmir’s first female rock band ‘Pragaash’.

Jammu and Kashmir’s first female rock band ‘Pragaash’.

So, the all-girl teenage rock band that had gripped India’s collective imagination over the last fortnight, as an attempt to break free from the shackles of a patriarchal clench that threatens to throttle India, has decided to quit. Their quitting is the latest in the string of caveats laid down by the region’s top Muslim cleric who declared their music to be “un-Islamic”. And, while India’s genteel are alarmed at the “outrageous assault on music,” they may well be missing the point. The issue isn’t about music at all. It’s about women and the need to dunk them into a subservience that lesser men are comfortable with.

Kashmir’s Pragaash was a three-member all-girl teenage rock band which, despite being in high school, had been the target of an online hate campaign ever since they won a ‘Battle of the Bands’ contest in December.

Despite riding a high, the all-girl band had to battle local criticism and social media furore from all over. They bagged overwhelming support from most of India surprisingly even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who first played to the female galleries with his supportive tweets: ‘I hope these talented young girls will not let a handful of morons silence them. The police will examine the threats issued and whether any provision of the law can be used to book those making the threats’…and ‘Shame on those who claim freedom of speech via social media and then use that freedom to threaten girls who have the right to choose to sing.’

A fatwa was issued by the Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, Bashiruddin Ahmadin in which he is reported to have said, “I would like to suggest to the parents of such girls to not support their girls. They should sing in their rooms, or within the family, but singing in public, in front of unknown men, I do not appreciate that. This gives rise to a bad situation. The condition of society is not good, and for the betterment of the country all this should not happen. One should sing for oneself.

All this singing business in public provokes men.

…The way these girls dress up – in revealing clothes – is not good. They should be blamed if any unfortunate incidents take place with them. It’s because they invited men, and it’s not the opposite gender’s fault. Co-education is not good. They should be educated separately from boys. This will help improve the condition of the country.”

Swiftly, within days, Mr Abdullah, predictably too, played to the male galleries and withdrew his tweets on the issue. In an interview to a section of the press, when asked about the fatwa and the reason the state wasn’t acting against the Grand Mufti, he said, “I don’t think we can do anything about it legally.” And, for one, Mr Abdullah may well be right.

Let’s face it: Nothing in this particular fatwa, it seems, could invite legal trouble, at least prima facie. Anyway, fatwa is at best a social caveat – that can be contested by Muslim scholars but surely not refuted by a court of law which would avoid treading that path. In the absence of a uniform civil code, a court is prevented from tackling a range of issues that remain conveniently ‘personal’ however ‘oppressive’ toward women.

And, if at all there’s anything that may be legally wrong in the fatwa and the judiciary – in a display of activism – steps in to fetch justice for women on its own accord, the government will swiftly create a fresh piece of legislation to suit the purpose of men and legitimise the ‘exclusion’ of women. Didn’t Rajiv Gandhi step in to create the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 to dilute the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case following a huge dissent among Muslim men across the nation? The Government quickly reversed the landmark decision of the Supreme Court that aimed at making the Muslim husband liable for prosecution if he failed to maintain his wife by ‘excluding’ them following another Act of law created solely for the purpose.

In a democracy, the government strives to keep everyone happy. The Constitution of India has inbuilt provisions to protect the weak, the minority and the legally-fragile sections of the society who include SCs, STs, women and animals. However, most laws and personal laws are created by those who are strong and in majority to further the interest of the very masses who vote them to power.

Pragaash winding up its act is yet another body-blow to the democratic fibre of our nation which is perennially at risk from forces which are sectional, divisive and patriarchal even communal in nature. Kashmir, incidentally, is known for its women singers who include Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s wife Shamima Azad. Omar Abdullah voiced a populist view that social media whose very origin pivots on the need to express freely, was used to threaten and intimidate the Pragaash girls. But then, in that lies the true meaning of democracy wherein everyone’s free to offer a quip, however idiotic, while remaining at all times within legal parameters. And then, if you do cross them and belong to a strong and/or politically powerful minority, chances are, the government will change the law itself to ratify the act.

Fatwas directly prevent women from working as elected representatives at various levels, from the panchayat to the Lok Sabha. Considering that a third of all electoral bodies in India are reserved for women, for the already marginalised Muslim minority, the issues are graver. Those preventing them from showing their faces or dealing with the opposite sex directly ban Muslim women from a string of jobs in the private sector as well.

While it’s legal to offer an opinion through social media according to common law, it is ‘illegal’ to ‘sing or dance in public’, ‘wear perfume containing alcohol’ or ‘work as a receptionist without a veil’ according to the Darul Uloom Deoband. And, whether you like it or not, there will be serious takers for the Deoband school of thought. Have an issue with it, change the law. Try getting the Uniform Civil Code in place and you’ll realise that it isn’t just Muslims who’re against it.

 

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

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