Muslim Identity in India

I attended a talk by a prominent author today, reflecting on the Muslim identity in the Indian society. I guess it also dealt with the diasporas of Muslim communities in India. And it was quite educational, even though it focussed only on two towns in India – Ahmedabad and Bhopal.

I went to the talk mainly hoping to learn about something else related to the society. The speaker did not touch on those topics at all, but I learnt a lot more about the state of Muslim identities in the society.

Firstly, it made me realise that I need to read a lot more about the Muslim identity in India. Living in a city like Bangalore makes you blind to the state of Muslims in most other states, particularly one as communally charged as Ahmedabad.

The author mentioned that there are no strong Muslim figures in politics, economy or the local mafia in Ahmedabad. I found this rather surprising, given the state of Muslims in that city. Every one is aware of the Godhra riots and the fallout, and the following rise of Modi (surprisingly to me). Muslims have a lot to fear in Gujarat. Ironically, this is one state where one would expect peace, as it is the birth place of Gandhi and all that. But either way, why isn’t there a political bigwig, businessmen or any such strong presence in the state?

Also, how much are their identities – culturally and politically – being directed by the Middle East culture? I keep hearing that there is an increasing number of muslims who send their children to madarasas. I hear that people are growing more communal, putting religion before country. But a lot of the research that I do read says otherwise. The truth probably lies in between. Yet, there is a rising link between the muslims in the Middle East and the ones at home. Every person has a relative there. Then again, half the people from Kerala also have relatives there.

But is the culture dictated by those regions? Do muslims here grow more rigid, accepting ideals from there?

Bangalore is expected to be the next Mumbai and Ahmedabad, given its growing popularity and decreasing tolerance level. A couple of years ago, I would’ve flicked away such statements.  But I notice the divide (new or new awareness in me, I am not sure) and I wonder if this would happen. I keep asking people if they are seeing more women wearing the veil in Bangalore. They all say no… but I have a feeling there are more women wearing the burqa. Young girls. And the keep it on. And that is a little freaky. Any time you see such outward signs of religion, trouble is not far behind.

Most cities in India have muslim localities. True, they might interact with other cultures in the society but there are segregated area for each culture.

As the author pointed out today, each city has ‘sections’ or buildings where people of one sect are more in number. Muslim communities tend to be more obvious I guess, as they are more in number, have several community-related shops and mosques around the place. In Bangalore, there are certain areas that are well-populated with muslims. At the same time, many of these are also business establishments, traditionally handed over from family to family.

Many saree and other clothing stores in the centre of the city are owned by muslims. And they have traditionally been a part of my landscape as far as I can remember. It isn’t just nostalgia speaking when I say I want these business establishments to stay. It is the crucial question of balance in any society. The businesses have to be spread evenly across the cultures to keep the power balance right.

I guess the talk brought up more questions in my mind. About the future of muslims in our country. They might be a minority but they are no where a small number. For every city, they form at least 30 percent of the population. It is hard to hate and reject 30 percent of the population, particularly in a country like India. Also, if we choose to push these minorities to the fringes, it damages the fabric of Indian society in a way I cannot explain.

Minorities have been persecuted in India for centuries. It was first the Dalits, or who are called the Dalits now. They were called the untouchables, the Harijans and other things. Perhaps that is simply because Indians are actually quite racist. It shocks me when someone says “We are Indians. We are Hindus. We are vegetarians.”

These are three completely different things, with no relation to one another. We are not a hindu country. Pakistan is a muslim nation but India is a Secular country. Secondly, hindus are not really vegetarians. There is a small percentage of people who choose to be vegetarian. The rest – we love our meat. So on what basis is anyone calling Indians a hindu country and vegetarians at that? The Hindutva policy should really be banned in a country that is as volatile and emotional like India is.

It’ll probably not happen in my lifetime. But I sure hope for something better in the next couple of generations at least.

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Get Over It!

I actually started this post earlier today about if women are naturally more inclined towards being generous and sacrificing than men are.

It got derailed when I came across this article – Iranian cleric: Promiscuous women cause quakes.

Not kidding. It actually appeared 5 days ago and I was too swamped in work to actually pay much attention to it. But I got an invite on Facebook today for “Boobquake“. It is an event hosted by a girl in the US who was pissed off enough by the article to ask women around the world to wear their most cleavage-oriented top or show off their legs or whatever they figure is “indecent”.

To sum up that article, the moron thinks women are capable of causing earthquakes.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

I really have no idea how to respond to a statement so damn ludicrous. I wonder if anyone would even believe such a statement. Now I do wish we had such powers. I mean if all I needed to do was wear revealing clothes and cause earthquakes and other such ‘natural’ disasters, I buy a wardrobe full of the skankiest clothes I could find.

I would actually argue about the things men could do you know – like blindfold themselves and sit at home – but it just seems like such a horrible waste of time to even write it all out.

Or I wonder if the cleric mistook something else for an earthquake. People do say (mostly in M&Bs) that the earth shakes when you have sex.

I guess the Boobquake is equivalent to the Pink Chaddi campaign we had here. That is what we do now. You make a silly statement and we rebel in your face. But we need something a little more concrete. A little more education. As long as we have women rebelling against women, I don’t know how much progress can be achieved. Like that woman during the Pink Chaddi campaign who started talking about morality.

Who defines morality? Why should morality be a problem for anyone as long as it isn’t troubling you. A woman wearing a skirt on a street gets harassed. Isn’t the problem the guy there? The lack of his morals? Why is the woman targeted as the evil-doer here? All she did was wear a skirt and walk on a public street. But she is flogged for public indecency, while the asshole who whistled at her simply gets a slap on the wrist.

A friend of mine who is a reporter in one of the middle eastern countries mentioned about an engagement ceremony she attended there. Apparently, both the groom and bride bring a 100  guests each and then the guy returns alone to brave the woman’s 100 guests and propose to the woman. It maybe just a ritual, but rituals are the remanents of some time. And this one indicates that the woman had a choice. She could choose whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. And yes, they are Muslim. Which makes me wonder where the rituals of not even allowing her to meet the guy come from? Evolution? Mutation, rather.

I was watching Lajja today. The Rajkumar Santoshi movie that got great reviews abroad but got burnt in theatres here. It is a good, if slightly overloaded, movie about women oppression. Different scenarios… people from different classes… it was quite realistic. Beautiful acting by some of the top actresses in the country. But nobody watched in. The men I know who watched it are the ones who are already sensitized to this issue. The others called it “some shit about women”.

Women who talk about women’s rights are often branded “feminists”. I often wonder why. For most of the time, I am not even thinking about gender equality. My boss at work is a woman and someone I really do admire. There are no women in the immediate level of chain of command but there are some fantastic women I work with regardless. And none of them would really call themselves “feminists” either. They go on doing what they have to do.

My maid put her two kids through school with her own money. Her husband was an alcoholic and she booted him out a while ago. She doesn’t call herself feminist. She did what she had to do.

And honestly, none of my friends ever think that gender equality is a feminist thing. But yeah, i’ve heard these words. from my distant cousins, from people a step away from me… if not the word, the slight rolling of eyes.

In India, we still have much progress to achieve. It was such a relief to see some proactive action being taken in certain parts of North India with people being jailed and punished for ‘honor’ murders. And yet, we have people protesting to amend the law to ban same gotra (sub-caste, in a manner of speaking) marriages. It is Indian culture… but when it is not incest, should we ban it? Or should we ban it but make a special amendment for people to get married if they really want to if it is proved they are not related by blood. Or will that just be impossible in a country riddled with corruption and an issue so politically sensitive?

There comes the line between culture and doing what you think is right. Indian culture doesn’t allow for a lot of things but culture evolves through generations (which is actually how a lot of things are not allowed, come to think of it).

The problem with this issue isn’t allowing or not allowing the marriages. It is those self-made juries who judge and met out the punishment, which often involves beating the guy to death and raping the girl. What the bloody hell does that achieve? Oh yeah and they could just shoot both of them, sometimes.

There is yet another debate in France to ban headscarves… One could argue that secularism could mean no outward show of religion. Or you could counter-argue, it means allowing you to follow whatever you in a manner however you want. The latter is what we follow in India. Who would be more successful?

Just because something has a 3000 year old history, is it correct?

I like seeing those little steps we are taking towards progress. But it is also infuriating to see that huge wall that opposes it in the name of cultural traditions.

Song of the day: I Wish I was a Punk Rocker: Sandi Thom