Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Suhas Palshikar: Citizenship rights, not burka

Reading Harsh Mander (‘Sonia, sadly’, IE, March 17) and Ramachandra Guha (‘Liberals, sadly’, IE, March 20), one cannot avoid the feeling that the issues need to be redefined and expanded. Mander stops at a frightening narrative of invisibility while Guha is content with a reformist platform irrespective of political context. It is only to be wished that this debate continues and that it helps the liberals and supporters of diversity in shaping their stand in the dual battle - with illiberal ideas and with majoritarianism. As a nation, we lost one moment of introspection on the so-called “Muslim question” in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992; now is the second moment we are almost about to lose — and this time around, we shall not only lose the grasp on the Muslim question but on the larger riddles of religion and modernity, difference and democracy.

Let us begin with Guha’s concern about the burka. One need not hesitate to posit that if women are dictated a dress code, this certainly should be a matter of concern. Having said this, we need to put this issue in perspective. Women not wearing the burka are no less oppressed than women in burka; what we need to fight for is not a dress code but the mindset that relies on religion to imprison the person of a woman. At the same time, the question of unilateral dissolution of marriage needs to be treated as far more important than the injunction to wear a burka.

But even if one agrees with Guha, a nagging question would still remain: If burka-wearing women are coming out to join a rally, should their burka be an impediment? Particularly, if it is understood as a marker of who they are? So the question is not whether or not the burka is a practice deserving abandonment; the question is whether a community be asked to hide its identity in order to be able to participate in public political activity. Wouldn’t we be scandalised by stories of Sikhs having to get rid of their turbans in order to avoid being targeted? Guha’s deep liberal concern notwithstanding, the current avoidance of the burka would surely smack of the dot busters? When somebody is bent on attacking you for wearing a bindi, wearing it suddenly acquires the resonance of defiance.

Two, Guha’s argument actually expands the concerns of Mander, because Guha combines the question of political leadership and the question of social reform. This is important because Muslim politics cannot become truly democratic unless, as Guha argues, it sheds the shackles of religious obscurantism. It takes us to the question of Muslim social reform and its relationship with Muslim politics and Muslim representation... read more:

Some more readings:
Arab women before and after Islam
When it comes to honour killing, India is neck and neck with Pakistan, literally. Every year at least 1000 women get killed in the name of honour in India, almost the same as in Pakistan. Every fifth woman killed in the name of honour in the world is Indian. If not for honour, it is quite likely that Baloch could have been killed before birth just because of her gender. In western India, states like Haryana (879), Punjab (895), Rajasthan (928) and Gujarat (919) that lie on the India-Pakistan border, the sex ratio is a damning condemnation of how girls are considered a perishable commodity, just as Baloch was. (Pakistan's sex ratio - 1:1.05 - is better than India's.)