Dissent is the sign of a healthy society

I could never have dreamt such an incredible dream that school students of Bangladesh would one day change their country. Neither did I ever entertain the fantastic notion that because of their requests, or orders if you may, no unlicensed driver will henceforth be able to get behind a wheel in Bangladesh, motorcyclists will have to wear helmets and everyone will have to obey traffic laws. What they have managed to do on the streets of Dhaka within only a couple of days has impressed not just me but numerous other people. But just as is the case with any successful movement, here too, opportunists have managed to insert themselves within the call of Nirapad Sadak (Safe Roads) for their own personal political gains. Perhaps the students should have gone back home much earlier. But just because they had not heeded the request of clearing the roads, did that justify brutalising unarmed students using the police and armed units of party cadres? Times have changed. Things can now easily be recorded, identifying who has done what and when. There are usually lesser chances now of criminals feigning innocence than before. All the information about how photojournalist Rahat Karim was attacked with sticks and machetes and who the perpetrators were is on the internet, only a click away.

The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has banned my books and prohibited my entry into my own country. In fact she did not even allow me the courtesy of being able to visit my father on his deathbed. As per her instructions the embassies do not renew my passport or attest any of my important documents. And yet she has my undying support. I support her because even though she has been nothing but bad when it comes to me, she has been good for the country. This assessment is not based on her strengths as a leader, her humanity or her experience though; it’s based solely in comparison to the leaders of her Opposition. Even today, given a choice between Hasina’s Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party – Jamaat-e-Islami coalition, I will give more points in favour of the former. It is unfortunate for Bangladesh that they do not have a better political option than the League; nor have they managed to foster leaders better than Sheikh Hasina, given how both can be labelled lesser evil at the end of the day. She is not an ideal leader and neither is her party the ideal political party. But the Opposition is so corrupt, so treacherous and so invested in ideas of jihad that one is left with no choice but supporting Hasina. I support her despite acknowledging the many mistakes she has been making and the injustices she has been committing one after another. I wish for her to stop making mistakes, because I support her and because there is no one else at present who can lead the nation other than her. I cannot help but notice how quite frequently her behaviour appears to mirror that of a dictator, how she no longer wishes to adhere to tenets of democracy, human rights and the freedom of speech and expression. I feel pained, I scream out in anger; not that there is anyone to witness my outbursts. I am not a politician, a philosopher or anyone influential. I am in the shadows, at the end of the queue, an orphaned writer among the many other disenfranchised of the land.

It is an undeniable truth that the faith and respect many progressive individuals across the globe had for Sheikh Hasina has taken a considerable beating, as has her reputation. This is precisely why she must prove herself and rectify her mistakes. She must prove that she is not only a leader of her party but also a leader of the people, that she still believes in the ideals of democracy, that she does not condone extra-judicial murders, that she does not want to suppress the free press, that she is not a vengeful and cruel person but a sensitive human being and a worthy head of state. She must prove she does not maintain an army of thugs and that she does not use her armed cadres to crush rational modes of protests and the rightful demands of citizens. She must repeal article 57 of the Information and Technology Act and prove that she recognises the freedom of speech and expression, one of the foundational tenets of democracy. Otherwise, sooner or later, progressive people will be forced to withdraw their support of her. If they do not believe in progress, modernity, women’s rights and secularism, if their party is what matters to them the most, then how are they any different from their opponents anymore?

Her well-wishers surely do not want her behaviour to resemble the very opponents she defeated to come to power. Already Reporters Sans Frontières, the non-profit that advocates on behalf of the freedom of the press across the globe, has issued a statement detailing how nearly twenty-three journalists have thus far been attacked while reporting on the Nirapad Sadak movement. Human Rights Watch too has sternly criticised article 57, clearly elucidating how the law was formulated to aid in persecuting anyone who would dare speak out against the actions of the Prime Minister or the ruling party. The entire world knows by now that the case filed against photo-journalist Shahidul Alam was based on article 57, resulting in his arrest and ten day remand during which time he has been severely tortured. His only offence was that he gave an interview to Al-Jazeera regarding his experience of photographing the Nirapad Sadak student protests where he spoke in favour of the students and made a number of critical observations against the government. He did not murder anyone, did not hack anyone with a machete or broke bones with sticks and hammers. The only thing he did was to sit in his own home and express his personal views in an interview to the media. How can viewpoints that are perceivably critical of the government be sufficient grounds for harassment? Let me assume Shahidul Alam did not speak the truth. Why has his untruths driven the government to such desperate measures to shut him up? Let the government prove that it is telling the truth. If Shahidul Alam is indeed a liar then that should not be too difficult for the government to prove. Let them prove they are the ones who are telling the truth and in the process disprove Alam’s claims! One can only imagine how much confidence the government must have lost in itself to have fallen on such hard times that they fear everything, right from school students and the demands of the common people, to the press, the photographer’s camera and dissent in general! It is a thing of terrible irony that the Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina is afraid of the same things that her idiotic and unsuitable opponents would have been afraid of had they been in power in her stead. People scare you only when they know you will be afraid.

A great person must necessarily possess the strength to accept criticism. You cannot expect to be a great statesman otherwise. In many civilised countries leaders resign even in the case of the most minor mistakes or errors of judgement. It is only in the third world that people employ any and every means necessary to hold on to power and as per the tenets of democracy even the most vile, bigoted, self-serving and stupid barbarian gets a shot at ruling the country. The belief that since one is good for the country no one else can ever take one’s place is deeply detrimental to the well-being of the nation. And there are enough sycophants in this part of the world to help nourish that belief and aid in its growth. But one must never forget that totalitarianism cannot be the solution to any problem. The way we oppose those who wish to use the tools of democracy to ultimately subvert its very ideals and establish a communal and fundamentalist regime, the same way we must also contradict those who wish to run a totalitarian regime in the guise of a democracy.

It’ll be catastrophic, the day the people go silent. All injustices and discriminations must be opposed. In order to heal, one must first identify the wound. Opposition to an injustice being done is the sign of a healthy society while the use of state power to quash dissent and abuse protesters is the sign of a diseased and barbaric state machinery. BNP coming to power would mean giving up the country to stupid and corrupt people like Tareq and Khaleda Zia. The Jamaat will invariably turn the country into another Afghanistan. And I am not sure if one can place too much faith on those who are plotting to come to power by ‘offing’ both Hasina and Zia. The best outcome would be if Hasina were to admit her mistakes and continue to serve the country. She will certainly win in the next election, but if religious bigotry manages to spread its roots further into the heart of the country, if stupidity is encouraged simply because it is more popular, if those who believe in free thought are assumed automatically to be enemies, if there are attempts made to silence dissent, then that victory will surely be a hollow one. Perhaps it might benefit Hasina and her party, but it will most definitely not be beneficial for the country.

One would rather have the democracy of someone unsuitable than the tyranny of someone suitable. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had made a grave error when he had decreed that there was going to be no other party than BakSAL (the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League or the Bangladesh Worker-Peasant’s People’s League); I hope Sheikh Hasina will not repeat the same mistake. I also hope that she will not repeat the error Sheikh Mujib had made by forming the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini (National Security Force), by allowing the supporters of the Awami League or the boys of the Chattra League (Bangladesh Student League) to continue to commit acts of terror with impunity.

The mosque in New Zealand

The entire Muslim world has been shaken by the terrorist attack on the mosque in New Zealand. As it is many people nurse a lot of anger against Muslims because of numerous past incidents of terror committed by Muslim terrorists across the world. Numerous people die in such incidents, innumerable women get raped. For these reasons islamophobes never miss an opportunity to insult or hit back at Muslims. The act of terror on the mosque is an instance of that very Islamophobia.

The attack on the mosque itself is nothing new. Sunnis have always been known to attack Shia or Ahmadiyya mosques. The attacker in New Zealand is a right-wing Christian fundamentalist and racist who hates people of colour, especially immigrants. A lot like racist Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Their kind of Islamophobia is a lot more extreme.

Islamophobes have taken it for granted that since all Muslims are terrorists, killing one is akin to getting rid of a terrorist as well. Their minds are so clouded with hate, their brains so impaired that they cannot reasonably understand that most Muslims are not terrorists. Millions of innocent, regular Muslim people across the world have to pay the price for the terrorist acts committed by a few Islamic fanatics.

The way Muslims have come together to bemoan the collapse of humanity, why do they not do the same when non-Muslims or non-believers die at the hands of Islamic terrorists? Is it because they feel more acutely sad at the death Muslims than they do when someone else is involved? I have seen islamophobes who, let alone being sad, exhibit genuine happiness when they hear of Muslim people dying. Aren’t these two mindsets remarkably alike!

I will cry only when it’s someone from my family or my community who is the victim, otherwise, I could not care less – that is not what it means to be a good human being. To be loved and respected, it’s not enough for Muslims to sport the tag ‘not a terrorist’, they must exhibit kindness and compassion towards non-Muslim people just as they do to their own. The amount of freedom, cooperation, and respect that Muslim people get in most non-Islamic nations is way more than even in Islamic countries. Thus, no matter how conservative they are, many Muslims hanker to settle in non-Islamic nations.

Muslims must learn from the way non-Muslims from across the world have come together in solidarity to express their grief and compassion with the victims of the terrible incident in New Zealand. When non-Muslims lose lives in such senseless acts of brutal violence Muslims too must come together in solidarity.

Those who always seek to blame the wrongdoings of USA and Israel for Islamic terrorism, will they now blame the machinations of ISIS, Al-Qaida or Boko Haram behind the man barging into the mosque in New Zealand and killing all those people? If not, then obviously there must be something wrong somewhere.

The time for Muslims to remain in their state of childlike innocence has passed, the time has come for them to behave like adults and accept their responsibilities. ‘You cannot talk about my religion, you cannot argue against my laws, you cannot say anything about what I wear or what I eat, you cannot talk about the animals I slaughter or the discrimination between the sexes that I practice in my social life, you cannot hurt my religious sentiments, make a comment against my Prophet or make a sketch of a woman. If you do any of these I will kill you, set you on fire, destroy your world…’ These are childish and brutish demands! If one wishes to be civilised one must acknowledge not just one’s own rights but the rights of others as well – the human rights, democratic rights and freedom of expression of all people, irrespective of religion, faith, colour, gender or language.

For women, fight for independence much more important than entry to temples like Sabarimala

The protests against the Supreme Court Sabarimala temple order show that some places in the world are still inaccessible to women, all the magniloquent talk of equality in a democratic world notwithstanding.

Mount Athos in Greece is one such place where the entry of women is forbidden. Not only women, even female animals are not allowed. Mount Athos houses orthodox monasteries where about 2,000 Russian and Greek monks reside. The same system of prohibiting women is followed on Mount Omine in Japan. At its gate, “No woman admitted” is written. Still, the UNESCO declared it a world heritage site.

India, too, has many places where women are barred like Mawali Mata Mandir in Chhattisgarh, Kartikeya Mandir at the Haryana-Punjab border, Kamakhya temple in Assam, Mangal Chandi Mandir in Jharkhand, Ranakpur Jain Temple in Rajasthan, and Shri Padmanavaswami Temple, Shri Krishna Temple and Sabarimala in Kerala.

Women cannot enter some of these religious precincts because the Gods there are believed to be celibates. At Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, women do not have access to the sanctum sanctorum. And women could not even move around Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. Now, after the intervention of the court, they can go there, but not the inner sanctum. The sanctum sanctorum is considered ‘pure’ and women are considered ‘impure’; so they are kept at bay.

Traditionally, women bore and brought up children, served their husbands and in-laws but did not get any respect or rights. Time changed; now women are no longer house-bound. They have become engineers, doctors, professors, lawyers, judges and topnotch professionals and scientists. They have even gone to space. In politics, they have become heads of states and governments. But all this could not disabuse them of the tag of ‘impurity’ labelled over them by patriarchal society.

The Supreme Court of India declared the practice of not allowing women of menstruating age into Sabarimala as violating the right to equality granted by the Constitution. But for the priests and devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the decision of the apex court does not hold water in the face of the old tradition. They did not allow women to enter Sabarimala, defying the court’s order, and surprisingly, many women devotees joined the male protestors. The attitude of political parties is ambivalent as they fear losing Hindu votes and so fight shy of taking a clear stand.

Religion is patriarchy and misogyny. No religion accepts equality of women. The reason because of which Sabarimala bans women’s entry is the same that of Haji Ali Dargah or Mount Athos.

However, I also wonder whether the people who want women’s entry into Sabarimala by any means think that it will give women equality. Many misogynistic rituals such as shashti, sindoor khela, karwa chauth are celebrated with fanfare and gusto. Even in marriage, the hymns chanted ensure the wife’s subservience to the husband. It was thought that Muslim women would get equality once the practice of triple talaq is banned. Such an absurd thought! Muslim women do not have equal rights under sharia laws that still exist.

We must not forget that women are oppressed because they are born as women. Incidents of rape, gangrape and sexual assault are rampant. Women suffer because of poverty, they are persecuted for dowry, and face domestic violence.

The body and mind of a woman are controlled by men. Female animals are not subjugated and tortured in the jungle the way women in the civilised world are. Animals enjoy equality, we don’t. We created religious places to worship imaginary Gods who are misogynist. Then why do women need to go to temples and mosques? Why do they need to bow down before the deities who treat women as impure, inferior, untrustworthy and untouchable. Women face problems at every step in this patriarchal society, but the truth is, temples and mosques are not going to resolve them.

The stand of Hindu fanatics in the Sabarimala case against the court emboldens Muslim extremists who always oppose judicial interference in their religious laws. They want to perpetuate their age-old anti-women laws. They refuse to be modern. Thus, Hindu and Muslim obscurantists think and act alike. The best solution is to go beyond one’s religious identity. One should say, “You are bad, but why should I not be good?” Instead, religious fanatics say, “You are bad, so why should I not be bad as well?”

Society is evolving. The feminist movement has been trying to change the patriarchal mindset but religious authorities and fundamentalists frustrate it in the name of upholding traditions based on misogyny.

Once upon a time, religious authorities enjoyed absolute power. Naturally, they did not want any dilution of their power. So, they always opposed any reforms. Countries which sidelined religion grew and progressed. Reformers throughout history have tried to make religion humane and free from cruelty and barbarism. In the past, there have been some rulers who tried to reform religion. But today’s rulers praise religion knowing that religion is anti-democracy, anti-women, and anti-free speech. They do not want to separate state from religion completely. If India is a truly secular state, it must not have religious laws. Laws should be based on equality and justice for all—Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. One country, one law.

If women do not have the freedom to enter mandirs, mosques, churches, pagodas, so be it. I do not think it will harm them at all. Gods are male; they hate women. What women need the most is freedom from anti-women religious laws, and freedom from the barbarism of patriarchy. Women need education, healthcare, independence, and security. The fight for these is much more necessary and important than the fight to enter temple or mosque.

Muslim women and an emerging new politics

Those Indians who are known to be secular, liberal intellectuals usually support everything to do with their Muslim minorities – their religion and customs, madrassas and mosques, Eid-Muharram, hijab-burqa, even their misogynous Sharia laws. Whether it is Muslims expressing a desire for more mosques, or if they insist on blocking thoroughfares for their Friday prayers regardless of the inconvenience caused to common people – left liberals back them up always and even fight for them. Such liberal intellectuals have done a lot for the equal rights of Hindu women but they have never been too concerned about similar rights for Muslim women as well. They believe Muslims ought to be granted whatever they demand. Obviously, here Muslim means just the Muslim men. These men want to establish laws based on religion and it is believed that they should be allowed to do so. Muslim men do not wish to give any independence to Muslim women, so it is assumed that is how it is in Islam. This is exactly how the left-wing liberal intelligentsia of India has committed serious human rights violations since time immemorial, all in the name of solidarity with the minority. And then they claim that they are human rights and women’s rights activists, that they are progressive in their outlook. The ban imposed on triple talaq in India has elated the right-wing fundamentalists of the nation while it has made the liberal class unhappy. While Hindutva activists clamour for a Uniform Civil Code on the basis of equal rights of men and women, liberals are not heard making similar demands. However, it should have been the liberals who should have been in the forefront of this rights discourse.
Muslim women in India whose rights and independence have thus far always been denied have suddenly woken up to din of equal rights. A couple of educated Muslim men have put forth a demand that Muslim women be allowed to enter mosques and offer their prayers just like men. The Supreme Court of India has asked the government for clarification on the matter and this is now front page news. Just like how the Supreme Court struck down the discriminatory rules that barred Hindu women from entering the Sabarimala temple there ought to be a similar law for Muslim places of worship as well. Muslim women deserve the right to enter mosques just like Hindu and Christian women have the right to enter their respective places of worship.
The ban on triple talaq resulted in a declaration of victory across India, as if Muslim women had finally earned their equal rights. That is how little people actually know about the discrimination between the sexes inherent in Islamic jurisprudence. Muslim women have not achieved anything remotely close to equal rights yet. I feel compelled to ask, what good will it do if women earn the right to enter mosques and offer their prayers? They will be able to offer their supplications in front of Allah, occupy the same row as the men while performing Ruku and Sajda – things they had not been allowed to do previously. Not that they will be allowed to read the actual namaz along with the rest of the men – instead they will be made to stand behind a wall or a purdah, in a small back room or the veranda perhaps. The same prayers they used to offer at home they will now be able to offer in the mosque if they wish to. The Prophet had said that it was best if women prayed at home. I fail to comprehend how devout women are expected to flout the Prophet’s wish in order to be able to enter a mosque and pray. Many have claimed that allowing Muslim women to enter mosques will mean the realisation of equal rights. The women will not be allowed to stand beside the men or in front of them, they will be relegated to the back behind the men. How is this equal rights? It will just further demarcate and put people in their respective places, that too in a mosque – men in the front and women behind them. Women becoming imams, offering prayers kneeling beside men or in front of them, such things are considered haram in Islam. Equal rights cannot be earned from within the ambit of religion, it requires one to move out of the structure of organised religion. Will devout women be able to fight for equal rights in marriage, divorce or inheritance? If one believes in Islam one has to also condone the structural discrimination between the sexes that is there in Islamic law!
How many Muslim women manage to finish schools or attend universities? How many Muslim women join jobs or start businesses like other modern women? How many are allowed to take own life’s decisions? How many Muslim women have the right to not wear burqas or hijabs? How many are independent or self-reliant? The numbers must be very low. When this number increases only then can one say that Muslim women are earning equal rights. No one has forbidden women from offering the namaz. Since many women remain occupied with housework it is more convenient for them to pray at home. Since men spend most of the time outside it is more convenient for them to visit mosques. Most women actually spend more time in religious activities and rituals than men, so it is causing women no great harm if they cannot go to the mosque. What is definitely causing them harm is lack of education, absence of proper healthcare and lack of independence. What is causing Muslim women true harm is the erasure of all their rights under religious laws, child marriage, being forced to marry one’s rapist or even being forced to a marry one’s rapist father-in-law, and a host of associated misogynous laws and regulations including being prohibited from using a mobile phone. Among the Bohra Muslims of India female genital mutilation is still prevalent, to ensure women find no pleasure in sexual intercourse. They firmly believe sexual pleasure is solely for men. Have Indian liberals had anything to say ever about female genital mutilation or have they simply accepted this as part of Muslim culture too? Those who truly want the betterment of the minorities must surely wish for the latter to receive proper education and become self-reliant, that they turn towards a scientific outlook and extricate themselves from the mires of superstitions and religious fundamentalism.
I did not write in favour of revoking the ban on women entering the Sabarimala. What business do women have going to places where it is customary to consider them polluted? Is it not time yet for women to start maintaining a safe distance from God? No person of sound conscience should bow down before a misogynous power, especially women should not do it at all.
Then there are the ones who call themselves liberal, who are labelled as progressive despite being so reactionary. There are very few who are truly progressive in this subcontinent. The ones who are Islamophobic, those who believe that all Muslims should be driven out of the country, are one sort of reactionary. While the ones who believe Muslims should remain immersed in their religion if they want to, adhere to Sharia law if they so desire, be allowed to mutilate the genitals of young girls and call it culture – such people are another kind of reactionary. A truly progressive person can only be someone who wishes to combat all kinds of religious extremism – be it Muslim or Hindu. Not just the laws and misogyny of one particular religion, it is necessary to fight such problematic features in all religious beliefs. Regarding the misogynous, patriarchal and brutal customs of a minority community through a lens of kindness and compassion will only add to the further detriment of said community.
That is not to say I am calling for everyone to tolerate the barbarism of the majority either. Half the world’s problems can perhaps be solved only if we stopped tolerating brutality irrespective of religion, gender, race and ethnic or linguistic communities. The rest can be solved by using the good to push aside the bad, the beautiful to overcome the ugly.
The problem with those who believe in free thought in India is that although they never fail to express their pride of vanguards like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar who took the first steps to counter Hindu fundamentalism, they simultaneously never wish for such forerunners to be found among the Muslims of India. Unless Muslims can be trained to inculcate truly secular values, free thought and a modern, progressive and science-minded outlook they will continue to wallow in the depths.
More than being allowed into mosques it is essential for Muslim women to be allowed to attend schools, colleges and universities, to become self-reliant, to learn to hold their head high, become their own persons and declare a war against patriarchy and the clout of the mullahs. To live having to hide one’s face, dependant on someone else, terrified like a witless worm – that is not how one lives. When I speak in favour of the independence and rights of Muslim women, when I call for Muslim men to become more progressive and rise above fundamentalist dogma, the so-called liberal intellectuals who consider themselves well-wishers of Indian Muslims abuse me and label me ‘anti-Muslim’. Does that not make it clear what they want? They want for Muslims to remain consigned in the darkness, just like how Islamophobes want Muslims to remain. Such people keep trying to stop me from showing my fellow Muslims the way towards the light; they want Hindus to find this illumination but when it comes to the Muslims they say it is not time yet. When sati was being abolished in this country many educated as well as uneducated members of society had been similarly disposed towards claiming that the time for it had not come yet. We must remember that the right time never comes on its own, it has to be ushered in.

The perfect marriage

I am so happy to see Deepika and Ranveer smiling and laughing during their wedding day. I never saw any bride laughs on that day. Since my childhood I have been witnessing brides are sad and grooms are glad. It is true for a bride no matter how rich she is, how beautiful or educated she is, she is sad. No matter what her political and religious beliefs are, she is sad. Brides are sad because they are moving to uncertainty. Subcontinent’s most marriages are unfortunately arranged marriages. And almost all men, irrespective of their religion, they demand or expect dowry. Even though Muslim men need to pay ‘mahr’ or money to bride, still it is common that they ask for dowry from girls’ family. We know how women are tortured even killed by their in-laws if they are not capable of paying dowry. Misogynistic patriarchal culture is so deep-rooted here that it is almost impossible to make people treat women as equal human beings. It was a part of Bengali ritual that men had to tell their mothers while going to a bride’s house to marry her that ‘I am going to bring a slave for you’. Bengali men may not say it nowadays, but they mean it. They marry so that wives can serve them and their parents and siblings. A bride moves to groom’s house, and she is forced to adapt with a bunch of strangers and accept everyone as her most closest relatives and start cooking and doing all household chores. They are just unpaid maids. Men are glad during the wedding day because they get dowry money, as well as a slave for the house, a free cook, a free cleaning lady, a free caretaker,a free gardener, a free nurse, a sex slave, and a free child-bearing machine. Women are hundreds in one. They have to. Otherwise, they are not ‘good women’. If women are not ‘good women’, society will definitely make women’s life hell. Women are forced to accept all anti-women societal systems.

So, in our society, not many couples want female babies. Because females are a burden. Collecting dowry money for daughters marriage is quite challenging for poor or lower middle-class families. I wonder how popular the dowry system is that no law can make it go.

We now know that there are hundreds of reasons for women to cry during their wedding day. They go to a house of uncertainty. They do not know how the man would behave, whether she would be a victim of bride burning or domestic violence. They do not know they would be cut into pieces and put in the refrigerator. They do not know whether they would be strangled to death or beaten to death. This is so common among all classes and castes and creeds in the subcontinent.

The truth, marriage cannot make life secure. If anything can make women’s lives secure and safe, that is financial independence. Dependent women have insecurity, inferiority complex, and many other issues. Patriarchy has been telling women to be dependent on fathers when young, on husbands when grown up, on sons when old. When would women start to reject the anti-women guideline of patriarchy?

Deepika is an independent woman. Deepika and Ranveer are in love. They are not victims of arranged marriage. They know each other well, they are friends, and they want to become husband and wife, they have become. They fulfill their wishes. They are happy marrying each other. Deepika would not need to be dependent on her father or husband. She is neither a slave of her husband nor a slave of her in-laws. She has her own house. She will never allow any domestic violence because financial independence has made her stronger than millions of women who are not allowed to earn their own money or if earn, are forced to give all they earn to husbands. Women’s money does not belong to women. Money always belongs to men no matter who earned it. People believe that women are considered lesser humans, so they can earn but they do not know how to spend money.

Deepika is happy, Priyanka also is. But many Bollywood actresses were not happy. Some of them committed suicide. Deepika is loved by Ranveer. Both are gorgeous and talented. I want women to wipe their tears and laugh on their wedding day. I want them to laugh like Deepika, I want to see women happy like Deepika. I want they say NO to arranged marriages, NO to financial dependency, NO to dowry, NO to domestic violence, NO to marital rape, NO to patriarchy, NO to misogyny.
Deepika and Ranveer will make love. But unfortunately, most women in the subcontinent have to be passive on the bed. Men do not like to see women equally active during sexual acts. It is men who do sex, as they believe sex is for the enjoyment of men, and men only. Women are supposed to dedicate their body for the sexual pleasure of their husbands, whenever husbands desire. Many women are victims of marital rape. I do not know why marital rape is not considered a crime anywhere in the subcontinent. Many women still do not know what orgasm is. The male orgasm is important, not the female orgasm. In some societies, female genital organs are mutilated so that they can not enjoy orgasm.

It is enough for the traditional joint family. Man and woman should start living in their own home from day 1 after marriage. Living with in-laws is really weird. No woman with dignity and honour would move to husband’s parent’s house to live for the rest of her life. Men do not go to live with his in-laws, women also should not go to live with her in-laws. Women do not need to be submissive only because society wants them to be submissive. And they do not need to sacrifice their lives for husbands and husbands’ relatives. Women have their own life and they should decide what to do with that life. They deserve to be happy. Most women are indoctrinated in patriarchy that they sincerely believe that a woman’s happiness is in her husband’s happiness.

Women need to learn how to enjoy everything life offers to them. Her own identity is more important than her identity as a wife, or a mother. She must not give up her own surname in order to take husband’s surname. I wish Deepika would not turn to be Deepika Singh. I wish she would remain as Deepika Padukone exactly the way Ranveer would remain as Ranveer Singh.
Husband and wife should be respected as individuals. They should stay together as long as love exists. If there is no love, it is horrible to live as a couple under the same roof. Nothing is better than divorce if love is not there anymore. It is also weird to live with someone without love for the sake of children. Children get depressed and disturbed when they see no love between their parents. If women are independent, they would not hesitate to divorce abusive husbands or the husbands they love no more.

I hope Deepika and Ranveer become the ideal happy couple. Neither of them needs to give up their identity or their job for the marriage.

The Burqa Issue

It is the most Islamophobic among the far-right in India who have consistently demanded the ban on triple talaq and the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code, who have been vocal about doing away with Sharia law. But the ones who should be making these demands in the first place, the ones who should have been at the forefront of the movement, have never done so. They are liberal, not blinded by religion or at times not even religious, they subscribe to leftist ideology and believe in human rights, freedom of speech, women’s liberty, equality, truth and compassion – but they are all quiet, they are yet to utter a word. Muslim women, by the very fact of their sex, are not allowed to go to colleges and universities, are often married off young and are forced to cover themselves in the burqa. For the crime of being born female they are systematically disenfranchised from equal rights regarding all things like marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

So who will fight for the independence of these women? The far-right has been vocally against the burqa. It will be quite natural to take that as evidence that they are truly sympathetic to the cause of Muslim women. But truth be told, it is due to no sympathy on their part but simply the demands of their own political gains that motivate the far-right to remain alert about faults on the part of Muslims. Muslims are not modern, they contribute in no way to the betterment of society, they imprison women behind the veil, they are not fit to be citizens of India, they are capable of only committing bad deeds, violence and bloodshed are endemic to them, their chief problems lie in their religion, in their religious texts and laws – these are what the far-right wants to highlight. However, they rarely choose to point out facts like how the religious laws of Hindus and other non-Islamic creeds used to be no less problematic, like for instance how the Manu Samhita has next to nothing when it comes to rights due to women. And that most modern laws were made by cancelling those aforementioned religious laws and patching together various things premised upon the principles of equality, as a response to decades of activism demanding equal rights for women. The far- right had always been in favour of preserving the religious laws. It was the liberals, the ones who believed in the demands for equality for women, who had fought hard against them. Wasn’t it the fanatical right-wing factions who had been the most miffed with Raja Ram Mohan Roy for speaking against the practice of sati or with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar for having argued in favour of widow remarriage. Today the same right-wing is trying to achieve something akin to what Vidyasagar had done. But they are doing this not to reform their own religion but someone else’s. I don’t believe that in order to reform age-old religious traditions or ensure the development of a backward community only people of said community must come forward and no one else. It’s general human responsibility to try and work towards the betterment of all societies and classes. But if the ploy is to only sing the praises of one’s own religion and social formations, ignore its faults in favour of highlighting the problems and issues in other faiths and societies – that is the occupation of a slanderer, not a reformer.

I fight for the adoption of the Uniform Civil Code without having pledged allegiance to any one group or community or political party, simply as a feminist and advocate of human rights. The Hindu right-wing too is a proponent of the Civil Code and there are obvious differences between the motivations of the two points of view. I wish for Muslims to become secular and enlightened, and move forward towards establishing a modern, equal society. The motivation of the Hindu fanatics is not very clear to me. Like for instance I am not a supporter of killing Muslims for eating or trading in beef, which is clearly something the Hindu fanatics is perfectly fine with. My position is always against any kind of religious fanaticism, even the Hindu kind. But does that mean if the Hindu fanatics support the Uniform Civil Code, even with their own ulterior nefarious motives, I should immediately withdraw my support regarding the legislation? Of course not! Just because my mortal enemy admits the sun rises in the east must I say the opposite! That the sun in fact rises from the west! Obviously not! I had once asked a friend why they were not supporting the cause of the Uniform Civil Code despite being so progressive. The friend had admitted that it was because the BJP supports the Code. Just because the BJP wants the Uniform Civil Code they don’t want it! I do not feel he is really progressive.

Any talk about a ban on the burqa makes people go into shock. Fourteen nations from across the world who are at the forefront of adhering to human rights have banned the burqa – either in certain designated areas or everywhere, either partially or completely – Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Latvia, Norway. In most cases the issue has been regarding allowing someone to keep their faces covered in public. Many people these days don’t feel comfortable when they see people moving around in their vicinity with their faces covered. Recently Sri Lanka has banned the burqa too, to ensure that it does not happen again that a terrorist is loose with their identity and their bombs hidden underneath a burqa and the police have no wind of it.

The other day in Bangladesh four goons dressed in burqas approached the young madrassa student Nusrat, doused her in kerosene and set her on fire. Those men burnt her alive because she had dared to make a police complaint against the principal of her madrassa who sexually abused her.

A suicide bomber is walking around wearing a burqa and we are sitting complacently beside them taking them to be innocent women – the days of such stupidity are over. A wide array of people wear the burqa – 1. Girls brainwashed by religion into believing they will go to hell if they don’t wear the burqa; 2. Girls forced by their families into doing so; 3. Suicide bombers; 4. Escaped convicts; 5. Criminals on the run with bounty on their heads; 6. Thieves; 7. Dacoits and 8. Murderers.

The burqa needs to be banned across the globe. Once that is done women will be able to move around with the dignity of human beings, without having to carry around a mobile prison at all times as punishment for having been born as female, to no longer have to live as faceless zombies. Can there be any better news for women? The women who claim they like wearing the burqa or that it is part of their rights do so only because they have been indoctrinated into believing so.

Back in 2010 an old article of mine on the burqa issue had been reprinted in a journal in Karnataka, that too without my knowledge. It had sparked riots in two cities. Obviously it was the men who had been rioting even though the issue at hand was womenswear. It’s usually men who decide what women should wear. If the burqa is indeed such a blessing why do men not show interest in donning it? That women too have sexual desires, that they too can make advances towards a man, these things are proven facts. We have heard of women getting attracted to other men and plotting to kill their husbands as well. So if women are expected to keep themselves covered from head to toe so they don’t end up stoking a man’s sexual desires, then men too have to don the burqa to ensure they don’t similarly incite women’s desires. But other than thieves, goons, murderers and terrorists no man will wear the burqa, because they feel it will damage their masculinity, like how sarees or bangles do.

Sarees, bangles, burqas, lipstick, kohl – these are women’s things. When a man uses women’s things, or does things that are usually expected of women like cooking, cleaning, childcare and suchlike, it jeopardises his rank and standing. On the other hand women slip into men’s clothes with ease, they do the same difficult or risky jobs as men, and it only adds to their standing. Isn’t this picture enough to make it clear to us how women are not regarded as human beings in the strictest sense as men are, they are usually regarded as lesser humans. Society has only made technological advancements but it has hardly progressed in its outlook at all.

The burqa is a symbol of insult to women, all of us know this and yet we are not doing anything to rectify this. To be honest, more than how degrading it is for women it is even more so for men. Burqas prove irrevocably that men are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses. They are helpless, weak and their libidos override their personalities. Let women say, ‘You cannot control your sexual excitement, that’s your problem not mine. You cannot cover me up because you have a problem. I am not your private property that you will decide for me what I should wear, how, where I should go, how far. You solve your own problems, why should I be expected to bear the brunt of them! I have my desires as well but I have never demanded you keep your face and body covered because of that. I will wear kohl if I wish to and if my dark gaze is a problem for you then don’t glance at me! If your eyes stray regardless and if your manhood causes you too much hardship then hide your eyes behind a thick blindfold. There will be no better solution than that. You don’t have to witness something that excites you. That way you will live and so will I!’

Some are saying that if the burqa is banned in India then the ghoonghat, the veil or headscarf prevalent among Hindus and other non-Muslims, needs to be banned too. I say let it! Women’s heads, faces and hair have to covered so that no one other than their husbands can see them, because wives are the private properties of their husbands – such dangerous beliefs are still so prevalent among people in the twenty-first century. Till the day women continue to don the burqa or the ghoonghat, they will continue to be regarded as sexual objects, as slaves dedicated to men.

ISIS

I find it astounding when I see the number of people who have joined the ISIS over the years. They are willing to speak a foreign tongue and move to an alien culture, that too a desert, to roam around with weapons and brutally decapitate anyone who does not adhere to their radical Salafi ideas irrespective of whether the victim is Muslim or not. They are willing to have sex with sex-slaves, not believe in principles of democracy, human rights, secularism, have faith only in Sharia law and nothing else, destroy ancient cultures and abandon their loved ones – who even wants such a dangerous life? Who gets attracted to something like that? Believe it or not, nearly 41490 people from around 111 countries have given in to the attractions of such a lifestyle. They have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Of these nearly six thousand people are from France, Germany and the UK alone. Barbarianism and brutality are perhaps inherent aspects of the human psyche. Or else why have people become so blood-thirsty? And how have so many people managed to envisage the impossible scenario that overnight everyone in the world will become Salafi or Wahabi, with one caliphate in charge of ruling them all.

People dream the impossible, having impossible dreams is not a crime. Those who believe in utopia, for instance, can be said to be dreaming the impossible. But they don’t necessarily believe in barbarianism. The problem lies with those who wish to actualise their dreams by way of violence and brutality. Be it Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, each of them had certain dreams. It was just that their dreams required putting people through unspeakable torture, inhuman suffering and brutal slaughter for fulfilment. In our time Maoists are killing people to fulfil their dreams, the victims are more often than not common people. Does that really benefit the Maoists?
ISIS too wants to control the world by killing people. If it were up to them the world would be populated primarily by a horde of murderous and barbaric men and where women will have no freedom whatsoever. The role of women will be reduced simply to being slaves, sexual or otherwise, to men. This may as well be the dream of certain groups of people, but for any other decent human being this will surely be a nightmare.

With the fall of ISIS at hand, many of its radical members have returned to their respective countries, around 1800 of whom have gone back to Europe. However, nearly 15000-16000 terrorists reportedly still remain in Iraq and Syria. Their time is up as well. Of course, a number of erstwhile radicals have realised the error of their ways; it has dawned on them how unwise joining a group as vicious as ISIS had been. They have finally understood that ISIS is in no way representative of true Islam and of peace; instead, it is all about unrest and strife. But someone like the Bangladeshi-origin Shamima Begum is yet to learn this lesson and the veil of religion still covers her vision. Even today she can proudly claim how she did not feel a sliver of regret or repentance at the sight of someone’s severed head in a dustbin. She has absolutely no doubts or anxieties regarding the deadly political games of ISIS, rather she believes that these policies are illustrative of true Islam. According to her if Islam says that the decapitation of a non-believer is just, then it truly is just and there is nothing to get perturbed about. How brainwashed does someone have to be to side with brutality without a glimmer of misgiving or tremor in their assertions! Not only is Shamima not remorseful, rather she has proudly declared that she did nothing wrong by joining ISIS. Despite having seen both her children die right in front of her eyes she does not regret moving to Syria. She still believes in the ideals of ISIS, insists on blaming the ones who have bombed and destroyed ISIS settlements.
The only reason she wishes to return to the UK is for the sake of her last remaining son, this is her fervent request after the loss of her other two children. The father of the child was a Dutch terrorist of ISIS. What I cannot understand is why Shamima, being an advocate of rabid Salafi ideas herself, has not sought shelter among the Salafi people of Saudi Arabia. Even after murdering so many innocent non-Muslims and spewing extreme hatred against them all the time, when it comes to living somewhere these people still choose a non-Muslim country. Such strange duality between thought and action! Now that the UK has revoked her citizenship she has gone on record saying she will seek refuge in her husband’s country Netherlands. What if the Netherlands too refuses to allow her within their borders? Will she then accept that she had made a mistake by joining ISIS? Shamima has not been blaming herself for her pitiful condition though! Instead, she has been putting the blame on the UK and on the coalition that has been waging war against ISIS. On the other hand, I cannot help but blame Shamima’s parents, the ones who began drilling fundamentalist ideas into her head when she was a child, making her lose her sense of reason and turning her into a fanatic. Fanatics find it very easy condone terrorist activities in the name of religion.

Liberals want Shamima to be allowed to return to the UK. According to them, her son is not guilty of any crime. Besides, they argue that since Shamima turned to terrorism while she was still in the UK the latter government must accept its responsibility in the matter. They believe that a fifteen-year-old girl is susceptible to making mistakes, so she must be given the choice to either find rehabilitation or face a court of law, even if that means being sentenced to prison. The right-wing is of the opinion that all ISIS agents must be executed because keeping them alive means taking unnecessary risks. Besides, no country will be willing to take such people back. Even though she is of Bangladeshi origin, Bangladesh will not take her back. Bangladesh has no dearth of terrorists and they are definitely not going to be giving shelter to new ones. Only Shamima and her well-wishers can now figure out what will eventually happen to her. Some people believe that such abrupt revocations of citizenship of known terrorists will only serve to fuel their resentment further, more fires will burn and terrorist activities will increase. But what will other people learn if terrorists are allowed to resettle? They will perhaps learn that one need not forgo comforts and privileges even after turning to terrorism; that on facing hardships it is really easy to return to the civilised world. And that they will always have further opportunities to carry out acts of terror, as seasoned terror veterans living in Europe and America.

I fear that if Shamima returns to the UK she will perhaps hide bombs underneath her burqa and carry out terrorist attacks in crowded places or metro rails to slaughter non-Muslims. Brainwashing is a dangerous thing; it is nearly impossible to turn an indoctrinated mind back to how it used to be previously. People can go from being moderate to being extremist really swiftly but the reverse journey is not so easy. Should I then, like the most zealous right-wing fundamentalist, demand that all terrorists and jihadis be killed? No, I will not say that. Everyone has the right to life. Rather, I hope Shamima can keep faith in her beliefs till her last breath if she so chooses. However, with so much hatred in her heart against heretics, it will surely not be safe for her to travel to a nation of heretics like the UK. In fact, even a British prison might not be safe for her. Since her views on non-Muslims have become well publicised, most people will come to regard her with distrust, with hatred and even fear. This will surely make Shamima even more vengeful and make her commit bigger acts of terror, something that will not be good for her and definitely not for the UK either. Just as jihadis don’t care about themselves, they don’t care about other people either. All those people in the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka were slaughtered in cold-blood by really young boys. Did those boys take training somewhere to be able to decapitate someone? Indoctrination can make people achieve anything, including the murder of innocent people, loved ones and even oneself.

Shamima and the many other ISIS agents who remain in stateless conditions in Iraq or Syria, those who have lost their US or European citizenships or are in the process of losing them, rather than trying these aforementioned places they ought to try and seek refuge in countries with Muslim majorities, especially the ones where Sharia law is followed. It is in such countries that these people will perhaps manage to find true inner peace. No one will have anything to say to someone wearing a burqa in such a place, in fact the burqa will not be illegal there like it is in Europe. And the men of ISIS too will be able to dress like the Prophet as they go about their daily affairs. No one will attack them for being terrorists and they will be able to comfortably merge into Muslim society. So instead of trying to send them back to Europe or America, I urge everyone to help these people return to countries ruled by Sharia law.

Women’s Day – It comes and it goes

We celebrate all kinds of special Days in today’s time – Children’s Day, Labour Day, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day. The reason behind commemorating these entities is that our children, the disabled, the workers, our parents don’t receive sufficient respect throughout the rest of the year and that we must mark an occasion to emphasize the importance of these roles in human society. The International Women’s Day is one such occasion. A woman, much like children, disabled individuals, a person belonging to the working class is a vulnerable object. And that, probably, is why civil society has granted a day in the year for compassion towards womenfolk.

I remember, nearly thirty years ago, when I’d demanded the ‘freedom of the uterus’, this particular expression had shaken up the bulwarks of patriarchy to not a slim degree. Thousands of religious fanatics had thronged the streets waiting to tear Taslima apart. Well, at least they weren’t the educated elite. And what were the respectable educated men doing then? Were they singing my praises – no, not! They were sitting in their comfortable apartments with their friends and discussing how best to get rid of me. While the fanatics were deliberating on my beheading out in the open, the genteel men plotted the same in the privacy of their drawing rooms. On the other hand, at every turn, I was expected to justify exactly what I’d meant by the ‘freedom of the uterus’. I would politely explain, whether a woman wishes to have children or not is her decision, at what age to have them and how many, that, too is her choice; whose semen to let enter her and who’s not to, this decision also rests entirely with her. My explanation had incensed many at the time. The elite, the unschooled, the literate, the illiterate, all kinds of men had turned anti-Taslima, for every single one of them believed that a woman’s body,every part of her body, indeed her entire physical existence were owned by men and men only. A woman has no say over the matter of her own body, she doesn’t deserve a say, and if she does hold an opinion, then she must be a ‘whore’. And a ‘whore’ I was called in Bangladesh, although at the time I’d been working as a medical doctor at a Medical College Hospital and was already a reputed writer.

The word ‘whore’ is one that’s hurled at women by all sorts of men in order to frighten her, to make her cower and crawl back into a grotto-like a fragile earthworm. Women who have been deceived by fate, cast off for some reason or another, stricken by poverty, sickness or ill-fortune are gathered by patriarchy and turned into sex slaves for the sexual satisfaction of men. It is such a woman that men call a ‘whore’. As also the woman who has defied all constraints placed upon her by dint of her gender, has refused the trammels of sex-slavery, has gone out and educated herself, made herself independent, not needing or seeking out male validation, ` is possible that many women have consented to the hijab simply to avoid being branded a ‘whore’ or safeguard themselves from getting raped. But can the hijab really protect anyone? Men force women to become whores for their own interests, and men also use the word whore to humiliate women whom they do not like. For many years now, I’ve been telling the women I meet not to kowtow before this abuse, not to be frightened when she’s called a whore, not to relent but continue undaunted on their own paths in life.

Does the story of my life not demonstrate with perfect clarity how terribly misogynistic Bengali society is the way it stands today? Must I spell it out for myself every year that – despite never having killed or violated anyone, looted, cheated or deceived anyone – the crime that got me banished from my own land was writing a novel about the liberation of women in society. I’ve been banished for having the gall to claim that an empowered woman doesn’t pay heed to the barbaric rituals and customs that constrain her, that she has no respect for them. If we belonged in a truly just and equal society, I wouldn’t be living in exile like this. It is only autocratic societies that banish their writers and stifle voices of dissent among its people.

Bangladesh celebrates International Women’s Day with pomp and fanfare. It’s their attempt to convince the world that they are indeed a civilized nation. Possibly also to tell the world that if a woman can be Prime Minister of the country, women here are allowed to inhabit other positions of power as well. So that the rest of the world may believe that women are accorded equal rights as men in the country and allowed to exist freely in the spaces they inhabit, that women are allowed education and healthcare to lead a life as qualitatively rich as a man’s. That a woman may be allowed to hold her own moral, ethical and political beliefs, stand for elections, assume leading roles in a system not rigged against her. Who is to contest these egalitarian claims? After decades of struggle against discrimination, who is to say whether a woman may really have all this without borrowing from the power and privilege of her eminent father, or a well-known husband, or her famed male sibling? Tell us, how many ordinary women have been allowed the privilege to continue her education, have not been married off forcefully by her family to serve as an unpaid maid at husband’s household, have been allowed to make decisions that freely affect her own life? Tell us, how many women in the country can honestly claim to have full sovereignty over the terrains of their own bodies, claim they may choose to or reject the idea of having children of their own? What clothes a woman will wear, which places she travels to, where she spends her money, how far she may be educated, what she will eat, whether she will bear children or not – every single decision forming the trajectory of her life rests with the male members of her family, not with herself! It’s not simply her body that belongs to others, it’s her whole life. A woman is a marionette – she does what she’s ordered to do, she may not defy commands from those above her, and she may never dare display a glitch in her programmed servility! And the woman who wants to go against the grain, be a free person of flesh-and-blood, make her choices, utilize her education to be an autonomous individual in her own right, she is a dangerous element who must immediately be eradicated. Take her life, violate her, shame her, send her away into exile!

The violation and abuse continue. Physical, psychological, in all spheres of a woman’s existence. The act of raping her has little to do with sexuality. It is to establish his dominance over her, to exert his will through brute force, compelling her forced submission to the misogyny that enslaves her through fear. Every year, the International Women’s Day comes and subsequently, passes. Beginning right from the old woman to the young girl, nobody’s lot improves. What use is such a Day then? If misogyny still gets free reign for perpetuating infinite brutality, if patriarchy still thrives with equal strength and force as it did before, what’s the point of having this blasted Day marked as special on our calendars?
So, here is my poem for Women’s Day:

They said—take it easy…
Said—calm down…
Said—stop talkin’…
Said—shut up….
They said—sit down….
Said—bow your head…
Said—keep on cryin’, let the tears roll…

What should you do in response?

You should stand up now
Should stand right up
Hold your back straight
Hold your head high…
You should speak
Speak your mind
Speak it loudly
Scream!

You should scream so loud that they must run for cover.
They will say—’You are shameless!’
When you hear that, just laugh…

They will say— ‘You have a loose character!’
When you hear that, just laugh louder…

They will say—’You are rotten!’
So just laugh, laugh even louder…

Hearing you laugh, they will shout,
‘You are a whore!’

When they say that,
just put your hands on your hips,
stand firm and say,
‘Yes, yes, I am a whore!’

They will be shocked.
They will stare in disbelief.
They will wait for you to say more, much more…

The men amongst them will turn red and sweat.
The women amongst them will dream to be a whore like you.
***

Hope that efforts to remove women fails

Women have to fight every day, at home and outdoors. Women cannot even survive without fighting. When the environment is anti-woman, with patriarchy in control, women are on the battlefield right from birth. Men too fight to survive, but women have to fight twice as much. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stated: “In this country, the battlefield is still not for women. Women have many problems in getting into combat situations, beginning with maternity leaves. Furthermore, Jawans are not yet quite ready to accept women as commanding officers in battlefields.”

The General wants to say that the battlefield is for men only, not for women; women need maternity leave and for that reason, it is appropriate that they are not commanding officers in a battlefield. People do need holidays during illnesses, no one has any problem with that. But not accepting women for important jobs with the excuse that they need maternity leaves is not new. Maternity leaves are long; when the leader of a unit goes on that vacation, another would be assigned to lead that unit. Introducing this provision in the army is not particularly difficult. The problem mentioned is not impossible to solve. Besides, nowadays women do not give birth every year but produce one or at the most two children. All countries give maternity leaves as a rule. In many countries, not only the mother, but arrangements have been made for both parents to get such leaves. In civilized countries, especially in North European countries, if women get to leave for six months, so do men. It has been observed that less educated parents spend their leaves together over the same period, but couples with higher education take their leaves in tandem, one after the other. The father takes his paternal leave after the mother has spent the maternal leave and joins her work. Less educated folks believe that the main responsibility of fostering a child rests on mother, the father takes his leave at the same time as if to merely help the mother in her child-rearing. But the educated believe both parents’ responsibility in rearing the child to be equally important; the responsibility of raising the child is not the mother’s alone but the father too bears equal responsibility. That is why the father’s role is not merely to help the mother raise the child but his responsibility includes raising the child. Research has shown that children, who receive equal attention and care from both parents and even equal rearing-time from both parents, grow up to be healthy and well rounded. Studies have further shown that infant death rates are the lowest in countries where mother and father both take part in fostering the child. Civilized countries believe both parents have equal responsibilities toward their children and hence paternal leaves are as important as the material. The question could then be raised that do men lose their fitness to be commanding officers in battlefields because they enjoy paternal leaves? They do not. By the same token, women do not lose their eligibility as commanding officers in battlefields just because they take maternal leaves. Anyone leaving for vacation can be replaced by another assuming her work. All the women in the army do not get pregnant at the same time. Here the real problem is not with vacation per se but with the gender needing the vacation. Men do not consider persons with female gender as human beings as if their only job is to sit home, produce children and raise them.

General Rawat has further said: “If a female officer dies on the battlefield, and she has children, just imagine the consequences her family would suffer; they would be ruined. Besides if any Jawan peeks in on a lady Officer in battlefield changing clothes that would be even more trouble. Then the female officers would have to register repeated complaints to the authorities. Denying maternity leave on grounds of duty might cause an uproar.”

Death of a female officer at war might indeed ruin the family. But a male officer dying at the battlefield might ruin his family in the same way; is that a reason not to send male officers to war front? I do not see any rationale to stop female officers from going to battle in case some Jawans peep while they are changing clothes. Men and women officers both register complaints to the authorities all the time for various reasons. One hundred and one of these reasons pose no problem, only the complaints about peeping Jawans causes all the problems. If such complaints convert boorish Jawans into civilized humans then it must be a useful one. Peeping by Jawans might also occur while male officers are changing. Even the male officers might feel uncomfortable while some female officers might not feel any discomfort due to Jawans’ peeking. As a matter of fact, feeling discomfort is not necessarily gender-based but depends on the individual. Also, peeping/prying is not the characteristics of all Jawans but of only a few. Isn’t there a system of court-martial for punishing those who commit crimes? Is the system broken?

The Chief of Staff has observed: “A majority of the army jawans come from very far remote villages near the borders. Would the Jawans agree to go into the battle on the orders of a female officer? I wanted to send women into battle, but we had to take all these different issues into consideration.”

Listening to General Bipin Rawat one gets the feeling that Indian forces are not yet fully ready to send women into battlegrounds. There is no objection to women’s presence in the army as Doctor or Engineers. But the time to combat the enemy with weapons in hand, he says, has not come yet. Time does not drop from heaven; one has to usher it in,. Have the women ever said that they do not want to be commanding officers? They have not. The General has said that the Jawans from villages do not take women’s commands seriously. In that case, rather than stopping women from taking command, educating the Jawans seems to be a priority. Jawans have to be taught the lesson that the commanding officer, male or female, has to be obeyed. In the army not willing to obey a direct order from a higher officer results in a court-martial. Disobeying a Female officer’s command should have the same consequence; if not, then there must be some kind of flaw in the application of rules in the army revealing administrative weakness. If the culprit Jawans escape punishment, Jawans are not to blame. The fault lies with that influential, misogynist inauthority who want to achieve their heinous objectives while putting the blame on the Jawans. They want to see women as housewives, not as warriors. They want to see women with children in their laps and cooking pots and utensils in their hands. They do not want to see women as equally competent to men in all fields of work. They want to see women as soft, weak, dependent on others, scared beings. The truth that they can equal men in physical and mental strengths, firmness and sharpness – is not tolerable to such men. It does not stand to reason that just because Jawans have come from villages, they would not change even with a good education. One should not treat them with such contempt just because they are villagers. How many city-boys would willingly accept commands from women? Just because they are unwilling, should we deprive women of the opportunities to work in all fields? Absolutely not. Depriving them would make the misogynists victorious and we would only prove that it is quite easy to displace women from different workplaces. We should instead try to remove the immense hatred and jealousy from the minds of women-hater misogynists. Only then an unequal society could be transformed into one of gender equality and fairness.

At a certain point in time, our society was not willing to let women even be educated and objected to their working outside the home. When women slowly progressed ignoring and disobeying the opponents, even then they were kept under control with restrictions to prevent them from this or that work. If the misogynists’ opinions were valued, women could not be Doctors or engineers even today; they would remain as school teachers or nurses. That is why I say, listening to women-haters would destroy the society – the more you defeat them, the better.

World Hijab Day!

First of February begins the “World Hijab Day”. A campaign for the freedom to wear or not wear any piece of cloth on anybody happens only when the body belongs to women. I have never found men start a movement about wearing a keffiyeh or ghutrah or take to the streets for their rights of not wearing them. When laws were being made in Iran to impose hijab on every woman, hundreds of thousands of women marched down the streets demanding their rights for not wearing them. The theocratic rulers of Iran denied women that right.

Some women want to wear hijab – they wear it. But the problem arises when some women do not want to wear hijab; they are forced to wear it. Just a few months back, quite a few Iranian women stood on a high spot on the sidewalk to make
themselves noticeable to all, took the hijabs off their heads, tied them at the ends of sticks and fluttered them in the air in full public view on the open road in broad daylight without caring for any punishment or retribution. The statement they wanted to make was: Those who wear hijab, let them; but we do not want to wear it, we want the right not to wear the hijab. As hijab is a religious garment and since religion is personal for every individual, it is reasonable to leave hijab up to an individual’s personal choice.

Pressure is created to place hijab, niqab, burqa, abaya, head-scarf etc. on the female body. The state puts pressure, or the family does, the relatives and friends do, so do the neighbours. Majority of Muslim women surrender to these pressures. My personal opinion: let the pressures cease; let women be given the total freedom in wearing their clothes. Many women are willing to wear hijab for religious reasons. Countless men would stand with hijabi women if they were prevented from wearing hijab but a similar crowd would not stand by the women unwilling to wear hijab. Here lies the ultimate discrimination.

The “World Hijab Day” starts not in any Muslim country, rather in a nation of Christian majority, in the USA. The USA does not have any law against hijab, neither is there any social policy to humiliate hijabi women. Muslims even get permissions from the non-Muslim governments for agitations on the streets of Europe and America. For those organizing “World Hijab Day”, the goal is not religion – but politics. When religion turns to politics, all its virtuous qualities are spoiled. It no longer remains limited within the bounds of personal faith. Religion then becomes a tool for occupation, an instrument for winning power, for decimating the rights of others, a weapon for beheading others. Let religion stay as religion, let it not metamorphose into politics. We have seen the undemocratic activities and inhuman achievements of Jamate Islami, Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, Boko Haram, The army of God, Eastern Lightning, Bajrang Dal or Shiv Sena already.

It is well known that in Islamic Republics people are forced to wear Islamic attires; women are specially goaded. But it is surprising to see that a similar pressure is maintained even in a People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Pictures of women wearing Salwar-Kameez and headscarf have been published in recent school textbooks with captions: Appropriate Attire for women. It has been said as an explanation that physical developments in female bodies make them stoop while walking – that is why walking with a scarf allows them to walk erect. I am afraid textbooks would soon present the picture of a woman in Burkha with “women’s appropriate attire” written underneath and many arguments in favour of wearing Burkha would be provided.

My question is: why should one feel ashamed of the developmental changes in one’s body? Why is it necessary to cover those up with extra clothes. Everyone knows about these changes in puberty. Boys go through changes in vocal cords- do they hide it with something? Hair grows on boys’ faces and chests – what is used to cover them up? Then why should the menstruation for girls be kept a secret? Why should layers upon layers of clothes be placed over girls’ bosoms – no one should see them; no one should guess that there is something like breasts under the clothes. Actually, the presence of scarves reveals that there is something. Isn’t the reason for women wearing scarves is: men are scoundrels, stare openly at women’s breasts without self-control; they don’t know how to act civilized? Whether we agree or not, it is an insult to men for women to have to wear dupatta or scarves. Barbaric men would pounce upon women not wearing scarves; some would consider pouncing. In reality, those who pounce would do so whether women wear scarves or not; scarves cannot stop them. They need something much larger than scarves to change their mentality – they need proper education to treat women as equal humans, not as sex objects.

So long as women continue to wear scarves, it’d prove that women can’t trust men, that they are uncivilized, barbarians. The solution is for women to stop wearing covers; and for men to stop being barbarians. Men or women neither are ignorant of the fact that breasts are just glands, mere fat, and flesh. Then why is seeing or showing them so troublesome? Maybe the problem is just that it concerns the female body. Men have breasts too and fat gathers on them but men are not asked to cover those – just because they concern male bodies. Anyone would realize that whole issue of wearing or not wearing scarves is there in order to create inequality between men and women.

Women are not given the right to wear clothes of their own choice while no one objects about men’s attires; they can wear whatever they like. Just for women, invisible “moral-police” have been posted all around. How can we build a society of equality until this discrimination is eliminated? Attire should not be an issue but it has been made into one. Women’s status in society can be guessed from their outfits.

Even in the Home economics textbooks of schools, I found that girls have been advised on what color clothes they should wear and what colors they should avoid. Chubby girls should wear light colors lest they look fat. That means looking fat is bad! Fat girls’ self-confidence is thus trampled into dust. In school texts, bodies of class VIII girls are being analyzed and researched for structures that look good or bad. Isn’t it more essential to instruct the girls about the discriminations in the society and family? Isn’t it necessary to help girls develop and broaden their minds? Isn’t it more urgent to inspire them in brightening the special qualities they are characteristically endowed with?

Are boys taught “Home Economics” or Home Science in school? This “science” is needed more for boys than girls. The notion that domesticity is for women, men have the world outside – has been proven wrong time and again. This idea has always created discrimination against women. Patriarchal society has locked women in homes centuries after centuries. Challenging this society, women are out today and have shown that whatever jobs men can do, women too can do. Women can be doctors, engineers, physicists, researchers, pilots, astronauts – they can be teachers, thinkers, artists, authors, politicians, sociologists – or laborers, police and military officers, ministers or heads of states. But men not yet been able to demonstrate that they can do what women can. They too can perform domestic duties and raise children. That is why I’d say that boys need to study “Home Science” more than girls do. Though girls have some grasp of this “Science”, boys are clueless.

It is worth remembering that in order to be civilized, an equal society, not a discriminatory one, has to be built. As long as men and women do not have equal rights, society will be anything but equal.