Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Danger of Stereotyping a Community

Dangers of stereotyping a community By V.B.Rawat

After Imrana’s case, there has been a spurt in the cases of Muslim women in the media here in Delhi and elsewhere. I happened to be present in various conferences in India and abroad on the issue of secularism and religious hatred. When the issue of Imrana cropped up in Indian media, a lot of debate and discussion went that such thing has not happened. Some other said Muslim women always live in such fear. There was a complete lack of understanding of the entire issue. I want to raise one more issue of ethics here. Media forgot its own line of control in not naming the ‘rape’ victim. But in the cases of Muslims, such sanctity is never adhered to, why? Why has media always named Muslim women raped while the same is not done in the case of others? No raped women and their families are normally shown on ‘TV’, at least their faces are blurred but in the case of Imrana, they are not only debating but discussing it wildly and some time idiotically repeating the same thing all over.

I, for one reason would not like to comment on the veracity of the case that has happened to Imrana. But I would like to focus here on another aspect of which we in India have become victim. Like our secularism, our news media has also become victim of symbolism. Hence when issues like Imrana come out in public, the loudmouthed get the maximum space, for they provide better sound bytes to the already hungry news channels. The problem that the Muslim community is facing today is marginalisation on the one side and loudmouth Mullahs on the other side who are waiting to react on everything happening on the earth. It is this quest to speak which give them space in the media and create an unwanted controversy putting the entire community on the dock. The common man is interested in his work and job. He is conscious of his identity and follow Islam accordingly. However, cases like Imrana’s need a little more introspection on part of all of us. Secondly, Muslim men will have to come out openly against any evil practices that have crept in. Muslim intelligentsia should not see every such information as an affront to Islam. It is often blamed that Muslim intelligentsia rarely speaks against injustice in their own system while cry against the external threat.

It is easier for those in power and majority to term minorities as conservative and fundamentalists. Long ago in the debates on the issue of minorities, Sardar Hukum Singh said “ every act of assertion on part of minorities would be termed as communalism and threat to the nation, while every act of majority community would be termed as ‘nationalism’. Therefore, media in general need to be careful in pushing down the community.

My problem started with the media which does not give liberal voices a space in the same way as it give to loudmouthed. Whatever happened to Imrana was uncalled for and may be attributed to the primitive practice and has a lot to do with socio economical condition prevailing in our society. Secondly, what happened to Imrana may not be entirely attributed to Islamic values as such. More then that it is the issue of an entire region. Let me explain this before many of my friend try to bulldoze me as a Hindu basher writing in a Muslim journal.

The green belt of India namely Western Uttar-Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab has in fact nullified the Zamindari abolition of 1950’s. The land concentration again grew in the hands of families therefore the concept of joint family system strengthened in the area. It is a well-known fact that joint family system in our country has been very conservative and thoroughly patriarchical in nature. A father figure dominates the entire family. In fact, during the last decade, the Bombay film industry and TV channel boasted this so much that it looked sickening. The gender ratio in this green belt dipped down to abysmally low and a matter of concern for every one of us. In fact, the gender ratio among the Muslim is far better then their Hindu brethrens. Now, feudal values are part of the green belt and it is rather foolish to link these values to Muslim alone.

We have seen caste Panchayats in this area deciding about young children. Not many months ago, in the Baliyan Khap when the local Panchayat decided that the two Jat families who got their children married should break the marriage. They reason that the lineage of girl and boy seems to be from the same village. Even when the parents of both boy and girl agreed to get them married, the Panchayat decided against them. The Panchayat passed a resolution that since the boy and girls come from the same gotra hence they are brother and sister. The same kind of story has come from Haryana this year when the Panchayat order the husband to leave his wife who was pregnant, as their gotra remain the same. Interestingly, the husband accepted the Panchayat’s verdict but the woman refused to accept her husband as her brother. Ultimately, some civil society organization went to the court and got injunction from the Chandigarh High court. There is a purdah system among the Rajput women in Rajasthan but the government is busy glorifying the entire tradition including that of Sati, because old is gold and sale well in the time of market economy. We protest here and there but that is not that much to bring them to TV studio and question them the entire night. I am sure Zee TV does not have the courage to do so.

Recently, the issue of Sikh families involved in polyandry has been reported by a section of media. To save their land from disintegration the brothers have decided that they better live with one woman. So Draupadi tradition is returning. I have traveled a large part of Haryana and found the gender ratio alarmingly low. I am surprised that there is no movement against it in the media. One is pained that these does not become our headlines as the people in Haryana are buying women from as far as northeast because there is no girl child left. It is shameful that such issues of concern never prick our conscious. All our Balle-Balle mediamen remain quiet on the continuous killing of unborn girl children in the private nursing homes in the green belt. So these feudal values are secular in this Ganga-Jamuni belt. And the answer lies in a joint movement against feudalism and evil practices irrespective of religion. And there is no need for any one of us to quote religious text to justify our wrongdoings.

I have met many Muslim social workers men and women in India and abroad. All of them have one concern, particularly related to women and education in Muslim society. There are hundreds of activists, common men among them who are working day and night to make their dream successful. There are Muslim women who are in the films, media, social work and what not. There are Muslim men who do not necessarily listen to the Mullahs and do their duties. Many of them have their own perception of life. I have found Muslim women who smoke and still claim that they follow Islam strictly, not in the Taliban sense but they have their own interpretation. There are hundreds of organizations coming up against such evils in society which violate basic human rights of women and they are raising their heads against injustice. This is not a bad sign but the vitality of a community. There are several Muslim personal Law Boards, even Muslim women have started them. I don’t want to go into legality of these different Personal Law Boards but what make me happy that these are signs of people’s perception in dissent and they are not ready to accept whatever one ‘wise’ person can say and decide about every one else. Many of them came out strongly of what happened against Imrana, but none of them got right space in the media.

Is it important for all of us to involve a religious person to define what they should do or not do? There are many scholars among Muslims who can interpret Quran much better then what the illiterate Mullahs who have nothing to do with this world, for they live in the other world.

Therefore, it is important for us is not to stereotype the entire community with certain cases which have more related to certain geographical region and also has a socio-economical background. A majority of Muslims in India are socio-economically backward and education is a matter of great concern. Muslim community has learnt a lot during the past 50 years and the voices of changes with in the community is growing every year. Imrana should get justice and hopefully she will get it. But let us not make it a political point to justify our positions and score over the religious values. The need is to defend the rights of an individual and strength of civil society. Let us not make a Shah Bano out of Imrana to feed the ‘revolutionary’ Hindutva brigade whose concept of women’s freedom are well known to all of us. Let us talk of justice and rule of law and defend the saner voices everywhere. It is in the interest of every one of us that social evils and problems in our system are rectified and not politicized for the benefit of votes.