And Backwardness Of
By Adv. Irfan Engineer
26 June, 2007
Presidential nominee of the UPA made an unnecessary statement linking
the ghunghat of Hindu women to the Mughal rule. School text-books in
South Asia are full of such unverified "wisdom". The authors
of the text-books are paid low remuneration which does not attract accomplished
academicians to write the school text-books. The text-books reflect
the beliefs and perceptions of their urban upper caste male authors,
which may not always be factual. In fact text books in Rajasthan even
glorify fascism as more efficient than democracy and therefore preferable
in many respects. Even after passing school, the impressionistic information
imparted to school students through the text books persist if not critically
examined by them in pursuit of higher academics or for better understanding.
However, presidential nominee should be careful while making such unverified
statements. Such statements of a presidential nominee may be misused
by communal elements.
Renowned Historian Harbans
Mukhiya opines that the practice of ghunghat pre-dated the Mughal rule.
Purdah worn by Muslim women in the South Asian sub-continent is not
seen in any other country or region. Covering head by wearing a head
scarf or chador is more in practice in other countries. In fact, the
purdah or burqa worn by Indian Muslim women is modified and adopted
form of ghunghat worn by Hindu women. When I was in Central Asian Country
– Kyrghystan, the region from where the Mughal Rulers have originated,
I didn't find a single women wearing anything like purdah or a veil.
Women were dressed more like their European counter parts. If the ghunghat
of the Hindu women were under Mughal influence, then Muslim women outside
South Asia also should have been burqa or veil. However, this is not
the case. Whether burqa influenced ghunghat or the other way round is
The argument that ghunghat
was a protective mechanism of Hindu women against the atrocities of
Mughals will also not take us very far. The power wielding male aggressor
out to satisfy his lust seldom respects burqas or ghunghats. Power wielding
elite exploit helpless victims to satisfy their lust without any respect
for dress code of any woman. The argument that ghunghat protected women
from sexual lust of power wielding men will logically lead us to the
conclusion that victims of rape are themselves responsible for the crime
and invited the sexual assault as they were not properly clad. How do
you explain rapes in police custody and sexual harassment at workplace
in that case? Can one imagine a dalit landless labourer sexually assaulting
an upper caste woman from a land owning family in a village however
she may be dressed? Not because dalit males respect the individuality
of the fairer sex but they know that the consequence of such a misadventure.
What matters is, who is vested with power and social sanctions and not
how one is dressed.
The ideology of right wing
Hindu communal elements popularizes the belief that the only oppressors
of Hindu women in medieval period were the Mughal aggressors. Otherwise
everything else was hunky dory for the Hindu women. No doubt all monarchs
have oppressed peasants, landless, lower castes and women and the Mughal
Emperors were no different in that respect. Mughal rulers, as all monarchs
head an oppressive social structure unprivileging the peasants, artisans
and women vesting social sanctions and authority in the hands of local
rulers or rajas, landlords, upper castes and male members of the society.
Sexual assault on women was just one of the way women were exploited,
and sexual exploiters of women were privileged sections of male, irrespective
of their religion. The Mughal rule was not without the consent of Hindu
rulers and elites of the time, which included the upper caste males,
landlords and the priests who gave social sanction to unprivileging
women in general and lower caste women in particular, making them vulnerable
to sexual assaults. The right wing Hindu ideology absolves the responsibility
of the Hindu male elite, the landlords and the upper caste males in
oppression of women.
Renowned Historian Uma Chakravorty
has studied the oppression of women in ancient India by examining records,
documents and analyzing ancient stories. Oppression of Hindu widows
and segregation of upper caste women in ancient India has been well
documented now. In fact women listening to recitation from religious
scriptures were to be punished by putting molten lead in her ears. Tulsidas
equated women with objects like drums and animals which deserve to be
beaten. Feudal system always considered wives as dasi (slave) and even
today many women consider their husbands as their devta (face of god).
Rajputs in Rajasthan defend sati with pride as their ancient tradition.
There is therefore a basic fallacy in the argument that backward traditions
in one community are due to influence of other community. Women across
religion, caste or ethnic origins have been oppressed. Comparing or
even blaming another community for the plight of women belonging to
one's community will only communalize the cause of women's emancipation.
Islam was one of the first
religions which recognized the independent existence of women. The Holy
Quran does not address only men – it addresses both the genders.
Women are entitled to inherit half the share inherited by her brother.
Muslim women can also enjoy her property and even her husband may not
interfere with her right. The holy Quran also calls upon the Muslim
men and women to learn and acquire knowledge and wisdom and to go to
China if need be to acquire knowledge. In fact there are many Hadith
(Prophet's pronouncement) which prove that women would not only participate
in religious and social affairs but would also argue with the Holy Prophet.
However, as Islam spread far and wide outside Arab territories, feudal
traditions and practices got better of Islam and the feudal elites justified
the old feudal practices as Islamic. Muslim women are amongst the most
oppressed and subjugated today. Oppressive traditions are product of
certain socio-economic system. The feudal values and traditions of the
past still continue and women continue to be oppressed irrespective
of the religion they follow. Invoking name of god grants far more legitimacy
Communalizing the cause of
women's empowerment will do a great disservice to the cause of empowerment
of women. It will segregate and divide the women along community lines
pitting them against each other. The need of the hour is that women
of all communities, castes, and nations together should lead a war on
patriarchy and be assisted in their efforts by men who are for gender
justice. Whether women wear burqa or ghunghat by itself is not an issue.
What is important is that no woman should be dictated any dress code.
Jack Straw's lecture to Muslim women in UK that their veil was an obstruction
to good communal relations Christians and Muslims was equally impolite.
What is important is that women, irrespective of the dress they chose
to wear, including ghunghat or burqa should enjoy all the rights enjoyed
by men equally and without any discrimination and that it is their constitutional
right to be independent and individual, and the same should be respected
by one and all.
Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution,
603, Silver Star, Next to Omkar Building, Near Railway Bridge, Prbhat
Colony, Mumbai, India. PIN: 400055.
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