|HER WORLD||Sunday, October 7, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Throwing a veil over reason
Resigning to fate is the only way for working women
Readers’ response Big
men and little boys
Big men and little boys
Throwing a veil over reason
Anyone who says that Islam enjoins women to cover their faces with a piece of cloth, naqab or hijaab must first identify the passages in the Koran where the reference occurs. Having done that, the matter should end right there. The decision is left to individuals to follow Islam according to their own light.
The fact of the matter is that the sinister designs of some miscreants posing as a militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Jabbar, which have recently manifested themselves in the purdah threat issued to women of the Kashmir Valley, have no sanction in Koran, Hadith or Shariat, in terms of content or manner.
Misguided and unscrupulous individuals have once again used the name of religion to denigrate women. Not only that, they have deployed it as a weapon to crush their personhood. As a consequence of that, what they have done to women in Kashmir is anathema to the spirit of Islam.
Today, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar stands condemned by all: Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, Jama’t-e-Islami and most of the political groups in the Valley and by Muslims all over the country. The lone voice in its support is that of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, a women’s separatist group; by doing so, it is regrettably sawing off the very branch on which it is perched.
There are three references in the Koran to the dress code. One is addressed both to men and women, the second and third are addressed exclusively to women. The 24th Surah of the Koran, Al Nur, (The Light) contains an injunction for women and men to "lower their gaze and protect their private parts". Women are further enjoined not to display their zeenat (beauty) except before family members. The underlying idea of both injunctions is not to call too much attention to their bodies. Men are also enjoined in a similar manner.
The 33rd Surah, ‘Al Ahzab’ (The Clansmen), has two references to women’s dress. The first one enjoins that the Prophet should tell his wives, daughters and believing women that they should draw their cloaks around themselves so that they are recognised and not harassed. Note the use of the word ‘recognised’, which flies in the face of the current idea of women’s identities disappearing inside burqas and naqabs.
The second reference in the same Surah is the one and only reference in the entire Koran to hijaab. The literal meaning of the word hijaab is veil or curtain, or ‘that which conceals’. The circumstances of this revelation have been described by the great commentator of the Koran, Al Tabari, who quotes the Hadith of Anas Ibn Malik, one of the companions of the Prophet: "O ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted. But if you are invited, enter, and when the meal is ended then disperse. Linger nor for conversation. Lo! That would cause annoyance to the Prophet.... And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your heart and for their heart."
The words for ‘behind the curtain’ (Minawara-I-Hijaab) gave coinage to the word hijaab. The concept here is that of private space which needs to be respected. Therefore the hijaab is meant for the intruder, upon whom the Prophet drew a curtain.
This being the context and meaning of the only reference to hijaab in the Koran, it becomes obvious that the customary practice of covering the face with a veil or a burqa has no resemblance to the Koranic injunction.
Thus there is no Islamic compulsion for women to cover their faces. The context in which the two Surahs containing these Ayats were revealed is also important. Surah Al Nur is a Madani Surah, chastising the slanderers of the Prophet’s wife, Ayesha, in connection with an incident which occurred when the Prophet was returning from a battle. Some verses are full of admonishment for people who accuse women of being unchaste without requisite proof and threaten them with the displeasure of Allah. This is a Surah which offers a perspective about gender that we in the 21st century are trying to make the patriarchal world understand. Its meaning cannot be twisted as an injunction from Allah to oppress and suppress women. And those who do so are violating their own religion.
For those who dare to impose fatwahs and deadlines to terrorise people, particularly women, and force their submission, there are many warnings in the Koran which states that they are guilty of spreading mischief and evil, which is greatly disliked by Allah.
For those non-Muslims who see this as another example of Islam ‘regressing to medieval ages’, there are three simple words in the Koran which entirely negate the terror campaign of the Lashkar-e-Jabbar and similar self-proclaimed custodians of Islam. La Ikra Fiddin: these three words contain the essence of Islam and they mean: "There is no compulsion in religion."
Then how can an outfit which calls itself Lashkar-e-Jabbar (Army of Oppressors) issue a fatwah to Muslim women in the name of Islam to wear a veil or else be subjected to death or disfigurement? Why can’t we as Muslims be guided by our own light instead of believing the distortions that come to us from secondary sources? This includes being overpowered by the media, which demonises and sanctifies at will, living only for the momentary bite, unconcerned about long term consequences.
The women of my family observed purdah as a customary practice until 1947. At the time of the Partition (of India and Pakistan), my mother and aunts, all devout followers of Islam, shed the burqa and it was never heard of again. Fifty-four years ago, no one threatened to disfigure their faces with acid. Had anyone dared, a storm of reformers would have risen and decimated such blatant violation of Islam. Today though there are a few, the voices of protest lack vigour and vitality.
And while the girls and women of Kashmir Valley have retreated behind the veil, another mark has been placed against Islam being the most anti-gender religion. Can we allow this to happen?
Resigning to fate is the only way for working women
If job compulsions transfer a married man away from his family, his personal life is ruined. Do this to a married woman employee and the entire family is ruined. It’s a harsh reality. Of course, the standard condition of man and woman being a happily married couple applies here.
Take it or leave it. India is entirely different from the West. Professional and personal lives are intricately woven and heavily dependent upon each other in our country. Even if a wife earns as much as her husband, her income is always, well, supplementary and in case of a transfer to a place away from her family, she is left with just two options — either to resign from her job or comply with the "office orders" and watch the family go to seed. A lose-lose situation both ways.
A lot many put the quality of life many notches above a higher income. And that too without regrets. When Nivedita, a Central Government employee with 17 years of regular service, was transferred to a place 500 km from Chandigarh, she resigned. Had she joined her new place of posting and continued for three more years, she would have been eligible for pension. "The future of my kids, husband and family was at stake, something more endearing than pension. My elder son is appearing for competitive exams and daughter in her matric board," she says without a strain of remorse in her voice.
In this era of dual career, professionals often spend more time with their PCs rather than their spouses and if both are separated, constant travel becomes a nagging problem. Stress eventually gets better of them though quite a few manage to survive long distance marriages. That is till the bubble finally goes bust. At the end, the only option left for them is relocation or else, there is something that needs to go — relationship, profession, future of the kids or the marriage itself.
A teacher in a government school, who had been transferred out more than four years ago, decided to put in her papers, as she could not bear it anymore. "Frequent travelling and maintaining two establishments was sapping my energy. Besides, what I found was that me and my husband were missing the day-to-day minutiae of life," she says.
More often than not, it’s the wife who makes the ‘supreme’ sacrifice. Shalini and Pardeep are both government employees. She is an assistant professor in a Madhya Pradesh college, while he is a schoolteacher posted in a remote village in Uttaranchal. Both of them have state government jobs, non-transferrable beyond state boundaries and after 10 odd years of separation, Shalini is contemplating resigning from her job, even though it is more prestigious and is in an urban area. "Society does not tolerate men sitting idle and women keeping the hearth burning. So we’ve finally decided that my job has to go even though that would mean loss of good education for our only child and a financial crunch," she says, her voice choking with the thought of the future.
The government is mighty pleased with this dropout rate. Already creaking under the load of humungous salary bills, the sarkari machinery has been told to curtail the staff strength by 5 per cent each year and focus more on contractual employments. Thus, every resignation letter is a ‘note of achievement’ for the officer and is accepted without any delay.
Not that the employees have not found a way out. After a transfer, most of them proceed on long leave, sanctioned or unsanctioned, while others, disgruntled, as they are, vow to under work, reduce productivity and cut corners. What else can be expected from an employee whose basic needs remain in satiated?
Another problem that bedevils such woman employees is of single parenting. To rear up children has been the prerogative of the mother. This is what is the social expectation. A woman who reunited with her husband after 12 long years of a career-triggered separation has a two-fold problem. Her elder daughter throws up tantrums at the drop of a hat and the younger one is meek, submissive and likes to remain indoors and aloof, both extreme cases of psychological disorders.
For such women, who have to move away owing to career requirements, life is an ordeal. They have a multitude of problems on hand. A Catch-22 situation, wherein they either have to run down their career or wreck the family life. Agreed, government jobs are transferable but can’t there be lenient laws in the government sector that may govern these.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: "As long as women of India do not take part in public life, there can be no salvation for the country."
The women are more than willing to take part in public life. It’s the society that’s abrasive. It’s the government that has faulty policies. It is the family compulsions that are holding them down. Still, if they manage to hold the fort, it is their personal life that takes a beating. Ironic, indeed.
The article, "A mother has no legal right over her children" by Vimla Patil (September 23) was very well-documented and thought-provoking. The writer seems to be addressing the problems of women who are well-provided for and belong to the higher strata of our society. They are the ones who can fight court cases but still find the going tough because the laws of our land concerning this problem are not in favour of women. They can at least come forward to fight for their rights as the guardians of their children.
What about the millions of women who are simple housewives and dependent upon their spouses for each and every penny that they spend? What about those who are not financially so well-heeled? The law here can (and is) very frequently highjacked by the financial prowess of a party. For others, the laws only exist in theory, not in practice. Every one can’t afford to go to courts and fight out the long drawn out court cases. Frequently the harassed and hapless mother is also subjected to emotional blackmail. Knowing fully well that the law of the land is not with her, she is subjected to tyranny. Very often she is told: "If you dare object we will snatch away your children from you and you will never be allowed even to see them".
As a result of this threat that wrings their hearts, many women continue living a life of harassment instead of walking out. The little children pull them along with their little finger and a mother usually feels that being separated from her offspring, specially if they are very small, is too high a price to pay for her freedom. Won’t more considerate laws save so many women from this sort of unhappiness and emotional blackmail?
A father is always looked upon as a fit legal guardian of the child. Why do we forget that a mother who has kept the child in her womb for nine months also has an equal right over it?
No certificate or document is considered legal without the father’s name on it. Moreover, if father is dead, his name is used with prefix ‘ late’ to recognise the child. No one wants to know about the mother who might be alive. She has no legal relevance in the life of her child.
Decrees are made by ignoring the fact that while the mother can take the place of others, no body else can take her place. Many a time the custody of a child is given to a father whereas mother can be safely trusted to look after child’s upbringing.
Since Indian society is patriarchal, woman is identified first by her father’s name and later on by her husband’s name after marriage. Why does a woman have to change her name, caste, customs after marriage? Isn’t it possible that a man too should change himself? How long would a woman have to introduce herself as daughter of and wife of so and so.
It will take time for women to be known by their established identities, but it will definitely occur if the attitude of Indian men continues to be same. Perhaps, the day is not far when a son or a husband will be known by the names of a mother or a wife.
Big men and little boys
The article "Why big men remain little boys!" by Thangamani (September 23) was interesting. I know of some such victims where boys even in their late twenties or in thirties are mama’s boys and behave like kids.
I would like to quote one such incident. My friend is married to a educated man (an engineer and an MBA) who is so intimidated by his mother that he cannot prevent his mother for her sharing his bedroom. The mother used to sleep with them in the same room. Even if she went away from the room, they could not close the door of their room. All this was done by her mother-in-law only because of her excessive love towards her darling son.
In the first 10 days of marriage my friends was asked to wear the clothes discarded by relatives. Her mother-in-law ordered and forced her to do so. The worst part is that her husband doesn’t mind it all. He doesn’t want his mother to get miffed at any cost and compels her (my friend) to obey his mother’s orders.
Even in the 21st century, the bahu has to remain within the four walls. She is not allowed to talk to the neighbours. My friend’s husband knows only about his rights and is hardly concerned about her basic needs. He and his mother believe that the bahu is meant just to do household work and she is not even financially secure. Instead of caring for her needs, they would even snatch her money.
"Is mother the most hard working member of a family?" was the provocative topic that class VIII students of a Chandigarh convent school were recently called upon to debate.
My daughter, being a participant, broached the subject with me, expecting to add a point or two to her armoury, but at the end dropped all my arguments as impractical, something that may not win the teacher’s approval and marks. Almost all students, helped by their working mothers, spoke in favour of the subject.
That set my alarm bells ringing. Being from a rural school, let me admit, at the outset, my bias against things they teach in convent and public (actually for the privileged) schools. They preach, for instance, to compete and beat others, turning friends into rivals, denying them early in life genuinely loving friendships. They learn to win, to excel and to hate failure.
Only a mind, nursed on the public school concept of competition, instead of cooperation, can think of such a devious topic for debate which can make a child question the traditional values that bind a family and rate each member according to his/her contribution and usefulness. Researchers can dig deeper into the public schools’ role in the increasing break-up of joint and nuclear families.
Even if one concedes the great need to discover who works the hardest in a family, the mother does not emerge the winner in all cases. What about the family of a soldier posted in Siachen, a securityman fighting terrorism in J&K, a policeman tackling crime, a bus or truck driver or a rickshaw-puller plying on killing roads, even a daily wager faced with the uncertainty of finding work?
For a large number of families in India, the grind of making both ends meet is a daily ordeal and they have little time, energy or desire to calculate who works how much. Ask an unemployed what it means being forced to sit idle. The contribution of a child forced to quit school to labour in a factory or work as a domestic help is far bigger than his mother, no matter how rigorous her chores.
In poverty-stricken villages childhood is lost in work, unblossomed youth withers into middle age. Widowed, or burdened with drug-addicted, non-working husbands, women see their dreams getting buried in the struggle for survival. And yet they don’t complain.
Well-placed, middle-class, working women in cities, on the other hand, neglect their children and husbands, hate guests and relatives (unless their own), work more for their own self-fulfilment (whatever that means) than to meet the family’s needs, spend much of whatever they earn on themselves, fail to do full justice to their work either in office or home, and then, finding themselves tightly placed in a situation of their own making, complain of overwork. Agreed, there are genuinely hard, or even hardest, working mothers, but why shout about the fact from housetops or make it known to children?
Not so long ago, homes literally overflowed with children. It was commonplace to have innumerable children. It was the done thing, nothing out of the ordinary. There was a strange necessity and pride associated with it. Things have, however, changed with the breaking up of the joint family system and stifling competition. Women are under no compulsion to bear umpteen children unlike before. instead, they now have a say in how small or big their family ought to be.
Whatever the reasons, there is a major shift in thinking. The tilt is evidently in favour of a small family.
Deepankar Chatterjee, a banker, has fond memories of those times." It was great to have six sisters and three brothers. It was one long party with a lot of raunaq at all times. The only sore point was none of us had things which entirely belonged to us. We learnt to share things and fight our own battles. Our parents simply did not have the time to indulge us."
His own family is comparatively smaller with three children. "Times have changed. My wife and I could not have been able to afford any more children. Already they seem so many! Competition has grown to such an extent that settling our children has become a major concern. We always seem to be pondering about their future."
roop Aggarwal, a chartered accountant, echoes similar sentiments. "Ours was a big family with seven siblings. We had a joint family and there were kids all over the house. Somehow, I feel it was easier then as children were perceived as a shared responsibility. There was always a sense of security since there were a whole lot of people to fall back on."
Ms Aggarwal who has two children(a decision all her own) cites economic viability as the primary reason for not having any more. "The times are tough and it makes little sense to have more children than one can handle. I can focus better on my children, there is more involvement and in terms of education and comfort, I can give them the best," she reiterates.
But what about the one-child norm catching up fast? More and more couples are opting for one child. Is it for the best or does it make a child feel deprived of a relationship s/he is likely to have cherished. Most importantly, is a single child a lonely child?
"Yes," says Mishu, daughter of industrialist Subhash and Manju Kohli. "Being a single child, I do get undivided attention, which is nice, but at the same time it means a lot of expectations. Though I confide in my mother, I can't tell her absolutely everything. There are times when I do get lonely and miss not having a sibling. Also, I am extremely possessive of my parents."
Ms Kohli says it was her husband's decision to have one child, mainly out of concern for growing population. "He was of the strong view that educated people should take charge and do something about it. He has no regrets but I feel it was selfish on our part not to have had another child. I am a parent and for this reason I can't out-and-out be a friend. A parent can't be a substitute for a sibling. It is just not the same thing."
Manvir Singh, an engineering student, too, wishes he had a kid brother or sister—someone he could bully and care for. "When I see my friends with their siblings, I wish I had a brother. When Raksha Bandhan approaches, I long for a sister. to be honest, I have been spoilt rotten. I believe I would have been less selfish and less of a brat had I a kid sister."
Ms Promila Vasudeva, a former Head of the Department of Psychology, Panjab University, believes an only child needn't be spoilt or for that matter lonely. "I have one child, a daughter, and she is sensitive to others. It all depends on how a child is brought up. Since both my husband and I were in the education line, we could spend quality time with our daughter."
She had to cut out on her social life so she could be with her child. "It is the parents who have to instil values in their children. I encouraged my daughter to develop social skills and learn to share. A single child needn't be lonely. I myself was an only child and I was nothing close to lonely. The only thing is that parents have to invest more time."
Her reason for having one child was the population factor. "And I have no regrets whatsoever," she adds.
Strange as it may sound, medical experts are of the view that having
one child may affect the reproductive health of women. Maya Rathi,
former professor of anatomy at the PGI, says though it may not be true
of all women, it has been observed that women who've had fewer
children are more susceptible to uterine fibroids.