By Ram Puniyani
11 June, 2003
Two cases of dowry harassment
came to light recently, though in contrasting backdrops. Nisha Sharma,
a Hindu girl, refused to marry because of last-minute demands for additional
dowry. Farzana, a Muslim girl, refused to accompany her husband because
he demanded dowry at the time of leaving the bridal home. The RSS' publications
Organiser and Panchajanya compare these two incidents and bring in their
usual anti-Muslim projection to the events. While the Organiser commends
Nisha who has "become a role model" and received other marriage
offers, according to Panchjanya, Farzana has still to find a way out
of the stifling tentacles of Islamic practices perpetuated by the medieval-minded
clergy. And it revives the demand for a uniform civil code as the panacea
for this ailment of "Islamic society".
Are these comparable situations?
Is it that so far all was quiet on the dowry front and these two cases
have come as a reminder of this abominable practice? An anti-dowry campaign
has not been on the agenda of the RSS, which has more "serious"
issues such as temple-building at Ayodhya and "Hindu pride"
to address. Is the RSS family serious about the issues of gender justice
as such or is it a convenient stick to beat the minority community with?
Most of the civil codes are
gender unjust and so merely parroting uniformity has no meaning. The
proper campaign has to be for gender-just civil codes, and this has
to be implemented through social reform. Also, though needs to go into
what the social conditions are under which communities can accept reforms
for gender justice.
The demand for a uniform
civil code emerged from women's liberation movements, and it was soon
realised that gender justice rather than uniformity was the nucleus
around which the laws should be formulated. As far as suppression of
women's rights was concerned, the clergy in all the religions were more
are less equally guilty. Where do matters differ in different religious
communities? One need not go into the fate of the Hindu Code drafted
by B.R. Ambedkar but it has to be conceded that in the first three decades
after India became a republic, a good deal of progress was made by the
Hindu community in its struggle for gender justice. It is no one's case
that all is well amongst Hindus as far as the treatment of the girl
child and equality of women are concerned. But the last two decades
have, in general, seen an intimidation of rights movements due to the
rise of fundamentalism of different hues.
The rise of Hindu fundamentalism
has also been accompanied by the ghettoisation of the minorities. The
pitch and intensity of communal riots have gone up in the last two decades
and in the process, the Muslim community has suffered the most. Estimates
show that 80 per cent of the Gujarat riot victims belonged to the Muslim
community, which formed 11.6 per cent of the State's population. The
minority psyche is greatly shaped by this insecurity and it affects
the social norms of even those who are not directly affected by the
violence. Added to this is the international phenomenon where American
imperialism is out to demonise Islam and Muslims by all means possible
so that it can gobble up the world's oil resources.
Muslim women have been struggling
for reforms in their civil code for many decades. Every cycle of violence
is a big setback to their movement. Communal violence has been blatantly
intimidating the minorities and the communalised state apparatus has
been aiding the Sangh Parivar in conducting pogroms. Can such an intimidated
community go in for reforms? There are contradictory tendencies in every
community and society. The same Muslim community, which is associated
with burqa-clad women, has girls riding two-wheelers, trying to make
their living as teachers or journalists.
How does communal violence
affect the social psychology? By now, the likes of Bal Thackeray and
Narendra Modi have perfected the art of portraying the victim community
as the one that started the riots and the soldiers of Hindutva, the
Hindu hriday samrats, as merely rushing to the "defence" of
the majority community and thus conveniently becoming the victors in
the elections which follow.
It is a difficult time for
the Islamic community world over. At the global level, Samuel Huntington's
thesis has come in handy for the imperialistic ambitions of the United
States, and at home the RSS has been developing expertise in Muslim
demonisation for decades. It is interesting that the RSS progeny are
subservient to the U.S. imperialists.
While it is unfair to compare
Farzana and Nisha, the incidents do have many lessons. While Nisha boldly
stands to defy patriarchy and its manifestation in the form of dowry,
Farzana is no less when she refuses to join her husband on the same
ground. These acts of individual valour reflect the stirrings amongst
the young to break the shackles of male domination. But the comparison
ends here. Both the girls have to live in different milieus. While Nisha's
milieu is not adorable in the least, Farzana is a double victim, that
of patriarchy and of minority-bashing and the resultant ghettoisation.
While condemning the force
of mullahs, one must also recognise the challenges faced by the liberals
among Muslims. On one hand, there is tremendous pressure on them to
withstand the onslaught of a crippling anti-Muslim propaganda, which
has become part of "normal" social discourse, and, on the
other, they are stretching all their strength to battle the obscurantism
promoted by the mullahs and their ilk.
The practices of the Muslim
community have been shaped by a world dominated by the colonialists
of the past and imperialists of the present. They have suppressed the
democratic aspirations of Islamic societies. Beginning from the formation
of Israel, the overthrow of the Mossadeq regime in Iran and the training
of jehadi youth through the conduit of Pakistan, the world's big powers
have created a situation wherein popular dissent gets expressed though
the worst form of Islamic obscurantism.
Where does the Muslim community
go from here? Can it bear the dual burden of Hindutva attack from outside
and the grip of mullahs from within? Farzana has to be nurtured and
supported in her decision to boycott the marriage cemented by dowry.
It is difficult to think of reforms in a ghetto and it is difficult
to bring in reforms in a community, the religion of which is demonised
not only nationally but internationally as well. Come what may, against
all odds, Farzana has to be nurtured.
The goal of bogus defenders
of women's rights has to be understood in its proper perspective. As
an ideology, which is deeply seeped in patriarchy, Hindutva has no place
for women's rights. Time and again, its ideologues have defended the
violation of the "being" of the women of the "other"
community. It has no interest in protecting the rights of minority women,
but we have to do it, irrespective of who raises the issue. One of the
major needs in the direction is to ensure that ghettoisation is checked.
The Muslim community has
to rise to the occasion and against all external and internal odds,
choose the direction of progress and justice. It has to join the progressive
elements of other communities and close ranks with them to ensure that
the Hindutva onslaught from outside and the mullahs from inside are
not able to intimidate its dynamics of progress and reform.