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Round Table on Muslim Women: Rights and Reality

Nepal – A Shock Greater than the Earthquake
A Brainstorming Session on Minority Education
Negotiating Spaces
Muslim women activists who met in Bengaluru emphasized issues such as housing, education, employment and livelihood.
Flavia Agnes, Zameer Pasha and Dr. Abusaleh Sharieff at Round Table on Muslim Women’s rights and reality
When it comes to Muslim women, often the only issues that get debated at the national level are triple talaq and polygamy.  Viewed from the larger perspective, these are marginal to more critical issues pertaining to education, employment, security and livelihood. And they themselves are not standalone issues. They are rooted in policies pursued by political parties and the dispensation at large. A Round Table organized in Bengaluru on November 22 etched in broader relief some of the larger issues faced by the entire Muslim community. It was convened by the Muslim Women’s Forum, F70 Think Tank, both from Bengaluru,  and Majlis from Mumbai, which has been addressing issues of Muslim women for several decades.  In addition to education and livelihood, the Muslim situation has gathered further knots in the wake of mob lynching, vigilantism, unlawful detentions, deletion of Muslim names from electoral rolls in parts of the country and attempts to disenfranchise religious minorities. The Round Table brought together several thought- leaders who reflected on issues vis-à-vis fast the changing national scene. Here are the views of some of the prominent speakers:
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, Economist Former Member Secretary Sachar Committee Muslims need to identify the broader pattern of socio-economic transformation in India in recent decades. Some of the highlights of the situation are:
  1. Poverty is gradually declining in India and is getting concentrated in some pockets and regions.
  2. Today, the middle class constitutes some 30% of the country’s population. While in 1947, India’s population stood at 40 crores, today it stands at 120 crores. But in 1947, 80% of the people were below the poverty line. Although the BPL population in terms of absolute numbers is around 30 crores today, those who have climbed out of the BPL are around 90 crores. This means that while the population has trebled, poverty has declined three times, indicating that economic prosperity has grown geometrically.
  3. India is the 6th largest economy.
  4. India’s development should be seen from the angle of its social diversity and democracy. Some people simply compare India with China while they ignore that China is not a democracy while India’s progress has been achieved while retaining democracy. Some others tend to compare India’s democracy with the United States. There is a basic difference. The diversity of the US is artificial while India’s has been historically evolved and India is a social mosaic.
  5. Real wages have increased manifold in India. Some may attribute this to depreciated value of the Indian currency. But the fact is that one can buy more out of a day’s wages today than in 1947.
  6. Wage increase is directly related to the abolition of the zamindari system and the end of feudalism and bonded labour.
  7. The gender ratio was skewed against female children for long. But gradually it is showing improvement.
  8. Now girls are generally getting married much later than the mandatory age of 18.
  9. Fertility is coming down and family size is getting smaller. Two children per couple is said to be the replacement level  of population. Several communities have attained this. Education and economic development leads to smaller families.
  10. Rise of educational levels of women results in better dividends for the society as an educated woman results in inter-generational resource transfer.
  11. It is the middle class which pulls up the lower classes to progress.
Dr. Abdul Shaban Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai A vital area that has been ignored by the Muslim minority is shrinkage and segregation of their areas in urban spaces. Just as things evolve in time, they evolve in spaces too. There is a contradiction in the Muslim situation in that they are more urbanized but least developed while urbanity should mean greater socio-economic development. Our study of Muslim areas in Mumbai reveals that identities are foisted on marginalized groups due to their concentration in certain areas. This foisted identity, besides stigmatizing the people with stereotypes, leads to their exclusion from the mainstream and neglect of civic services. Some statistics point to a lower socio-economic status of Muslims in predominantly Muslim  pockets of Mumbai. For instance, it is found that unemployment rate in these  pockets ranges from 29.3% in Bandra East to a high of 55% in Govandi in the 15-60 age group. With regard to per capital family income, as many as 79% families were categorized under Rs. 1,000 per month.  A predominant majority of homes (over 70%) accounted for one room being shared by three to ten persons. Nikhat Noumaan Shaikh Islamic scholar, Mumbai Indian Muslims need to focus on both, 1- awareness of Islam and its laws and 2- their actualization in a particular society.  Shariah is not a fixed code. It is an evolving corpus of laws which takes time and society into consideration. We need to think of a new framework. For instance, the categorization of societies as Darul Islam and Darul Harb does not apply to a democratic, plural and multicultural societies  like today’s. Few Muslims know that marriage is a social contract and can be dissolved with mutual consent. The Muslim society has reduced mehr from obligation to tokenism today whereas dowry has become integral.  These distortions must be addressed in order to elevate the status of Muslim women. Abdul Ahad Falahi Mahkamah e Shariah, Mumbai Muslim women’s lot must be bettered. The Quran says that spouses draw satisfaction (sukoon) from mutual bonding. How could this be possible when one spouse is neglected? There is a need for standard Nikahnamah (a written contract mutually agreed between the two spouses prior to nikah) as the written word is more credible than professing something orally. Iqbal Ahmed Shariff Advocate, Bengaluru Physical laws of nature are unalterable. So too are Divine laws. The Quran has defined and designated women’s social status. Ms. Khalida Parveen Secretary, Amoomat Society, Hyderabad We have set up a counseling centre in Hyderabad for couples getting married and for resolution of post marital differences and disputes. We have also set up an organization for arranging matrimonial alliances. We coordinate with police in matters of marital disputes and they too refer such cases to us. Getting khula’ for women locked in troubled marriage was a nettlesome task. We look at these issues from a humanitarian angle and get relief for such girls. Muslim women who have graduated up to the position of mother-in law would be better advised not to insist on fairness of complexion for their daughters-in law. I would advise them to have a better look at themselves in a large mirror before setting out to look for a bride for their sons. Our services are getting recognized. We received 200 applications for such disputes in the first year and a similar number in the next six months.
Flavia Agnes Lawyer & President, Majlis Mumbai Triple talaq and polygamy dominate the debate on issues pertaining to Muslim women. I have been supporting reforms in all family laws consistently while opposing a Uniform Civil Code. Everyone thought the Law Commission would recommend Uniform Civil Code. But it did not. Today the BJP is mobilizing popular support in Kerala opposing the SC ruling allowing women’s entry into Sabarimala temple while the same party wanted the SC verdict in the Shahbano case to prevail. Triple talaq and polygamy are a mere camouflage to keep the Muslim community under pressure. The real issues that need to be addressed today are mass deletion of names of Muslim voters from electoral rolls. There is a systematic effort going on. Convener Mohammed Raziq welcomed the gathering. Mr. Syed Zameer Pasha, Congress leader, Social workers Cynthia Stephen and Dr. A. Suneethat of Anveshi Research Centre also made presentations. (Report compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj)