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March 17, 2018

Different rooms for men and women

Filed under: politics, religion, social change, Uncategorized — neosurya @ 23:26

A few months back, I and my wife were invited to the 1st birthday of our friends son. The family was in India on a visit from the United States to renew their H1B visas. As part of the trip, my friend was celebrating his sons’ first birthday. As I reached the venue, I called my friend for directions; he told me over the phone: “Yaar tu pehle aajaa. Phir gaadi park karke famliy ko laana” (You come first, we will go to the car; I will show you where to park and drop the family).

I hugged him and said “Yaar, bhaabhi kahaan hai? Beta kahaan hai?” (Where is your wife? Where is your son?).  My friend pointed out: “Yaar, unka entrance is taraf hai. Woh hamaare me ladies alag baithte hai naa.” (Friend, the entrance for ladies and children is elsewhere. In our custom, women sit away from men). I was surprised. I was further dismayed to see that the location had well-lit promenade entrance for men. Women had to go through a dimly lit narrow lane, and take an even more narrow side door. A set of stairs took them through a narrow corridor up into a hall for the ladies. Outside the separate hall, all ladies had to wear burqa. The ladies also could not come into the enclosure where the men were dining. I protested and said: “Yaar, you never do this in the US. Why here?” He had no answer for me.

My driver later asked me: “Sir, why were there only men at the event? And why did madam go to a different location? That entrance was not good sir. Is this a Muslim event?”. I had no answer for him.

In parts of Hyderabad, several marriage/party halls have separate sections for men and women. They advertise this feature openly. Everyone in Hyderabad knows that in Muslim events, women rarely come out. Even if they do, they sit in a different place.  In some cases, there is also a possibility to have a different level of service offered in these two sections.

In an article written by Mr Harsh Mander,  he says: “…speakers lament the political consensus across the spectrum that Muslims are a political liability”. Mr Mander says that all Muslims are abandoned. But are they? Indian society is one of the most pluralistic. It has the third largest Muslim population in the world [Source]. The number of Muslims in India is close to the Muslim population of all the Middle East countries added together. India is the only secular democracy with such a wide variety of religions in significant numbers. True, countries like the US and France have secular constitutions, but their individual minorities are less than 1% of the population.

Modern society has identified many ways of grouping people: religious, ethnic, economic etc. Society MUST create secular framework to accommodate a common interest. But each group also MUST accommodate the requirements of secular society.

Mr Mander, the real sad part is this:

A entire community is not allowed to celebrate cultural events with both sexes in a single room. Leaders of that community openly support many other glaring discriminations in plain sight. And no political party has the courage to suggest that this needs to change. Every religion will try its best to interfere in the public life of an individual. And every Govt must deny that to every religion. It is dangerous for political parties to be partial and allow one or the other religion to take over public life. Till this partiality continues, we will have a Surya and a Sayyed who cannot share a common space. Till this partiality continues, we will have vote banks governing in the name of democracy.

No religious group is perfect. Hindu society is trying very hard to remove its own share of drawbacks. (I am not going to discuss the definition of Hindu). We are fighting female infanticide, dowry, discriminatory religious practices, and Inshaallah we will win against these ills. We need many like you to point out ills in the religious community and also point out possible solutions.

But in the name of Ram, Rahim, or maybe the Indian constitution,  will the Muslims accept reform? Will they say that we do not need to marry four women, we do not need a separate MPLB (Muslim Personal Law Board), or at the very least do not need different entrances to our marriage halls? Often times, burqa is defended saying that it empowers/protects women from unruly elements in the public space. I wonder what empowerment or protection is obtained by having separate areas in an event like birthday, marriage, engagement, eid, or for that matter in a mosque?

No group will leave its familiar customs and practices easily. They will use every rule and ruse to ensure that status quo continues to be maintained. Every group has to be coerced into following the common minimum. The Congress is completely complicit in ensuring that Muslims were never asked to introspect. Ergo, Muslims were never able to reform. In doing so, the Congress has ensured that these Minorities always stand out as a different group.

I dont know if the BJP will be any better. The BJP will cause more harm if it pushes the appeasement pendulum to the other side. Sections of the BJP are showing signs of rabble rousing. Secularism is a process of ensuring everyone reaches a common ground, while retaining their independent thought. It is a complex phenomena. Political parties have to raise to the occasion and be bi-partisan.

The full comment by Harsh Mander:

Over the past months, I have been urged to join a series of meetings called by Muslim leaders and youth. The mood is always sombre, submerged in despair. In these meetings, speakers lament the political consensus across the spectrum that Muslims are a political liability. Political parties are unwilling to field Muslim candidates, to speak of issues of violence and discrimination that afflict large Muslim populations, even to openly seek Muslim votes. In one of these meetings, a prominent Dalit leader said, “By all means come in large numbers to our rallies. But don’t come with your skullcaps and burkas.”

This article says that Darul Uloom Deoband has instructed Madrassas to not accept Govt grants because they do not want to follow Govt regulations. The Darul calls this “Govt interference”. Is this a right step for the unity and secularism of our country? To quote the article:

We have our own disciplinary codes, uniforms as well as syllabus to follow and don’t want the government interfering in these matters. We don’t want the government to ask us for details of daily attendance of students and teachers and other such things.

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