My Fears Regarding Bangladesh

I heard someone say that a river of blood flowed in Sri Lanka last Sunday. When 359 people die and around 500 more are injured, the resultant blood surely does look like a flowing river. But why this carnage? Why so much hate? What terrible thing had those people done and to whom?
In the middle ages there used to be religious wars, the Crusades, where people of one religion would slaughter those of another. We would like to believe that we have become more civilised and that in our civilised societies all faiths and creeds coexist in excellent harmony. But it would be as good as denying the truth if we deny that the religious wars are still going on around us. Muslims are killing Christians, Christians are killing Muslims and Jews, Jews are killing Muslims and vice versa, Buddhists are slaughtering Muslims, Muslims are killing Hindus who in turn are killing Muslims – this is what is going on. No matter how much we would like to believe that we have risen above religion, that our identity as human beings is all that matters at present. No, it’s still one’s religious identity that is paramount. Even now one’s racial, caste and gender identities take precedence over everything else. In New Zealand, the racist, Christian terrorist was fully aware that he was killing Muslims. It has been said that the man was taking revenge for the disabled, Christian girl in Sweden who was crushed under a truck by a Muslim terrorist. In turn Muslim terrorists have deliberately targeted Christians in Sri Lanka by bombing the churches and the hotels where foreign tourists usually stay. This was their way of avenging the deaths of the fifty Muslims who died in the shooting in the New Zealand mosque.
Rumour has it that it is ISIS, in association with a Sri Lankan Islamic organisation named Tauheed Jamaat, that is behind the attack. It is not easy for a small minority organisation of a small country to train eight-nine people as suicide bombers and carry out a series of coordinated bombings to kill hundreds of people. ISIS has issued a statement accepting their role in the carnage. Although there have been previous instances where the ISIS has issued false claims, this time it might not be so. The Indian government had sent a missive to Sri Lanka warning them of an imminent attack on the churches, information that India had gleaned from an arrested ISIS agent. But despite the warning, the Sri Lankan government had not taken adequate measures. Had they taken heed they would have perhaps not let Easter celebrations take place in any of those churches and the hotels too would have been put under strict surveillance. The President of Sri Lanka has said that he had not been aware of the warning from India and that if he had known he would have taken the necessary steps. Perhaps India should have made more of an effort to explain to Sri Lanka the severity of the matter and ensured that they take adequate and urgent precautions to safeguard the security of their citizens.
People of one religion are slaughtering those of another. When will this war of religions end? The bomb blasts in Sri Lanka are presumably in retaliation of the mass shooting in the mosque in New Zealand. Again some Christian terrorist somewhere will avenge Sri Lanka by murdering more Muslims, who in turn will rise up to take revenge – this cycle of violence and murder has no end, it can go on for eternity. As it is religion is not the only thing over which wars are fought in this world. The war of genders, waged by men against women, is as relentless. Women are harassed, their movements are restricted, their rights are violated and their freedom is curbed, they are made into sexual objects, raped and murdered – all this goes on as before. The rich are waging a war against the poor – everywhere you look there is a war going on. Sometimes I fail to comprehend how a race so intelligent as ours, one that has built spaceships and nearly completed all necessary arrangements to travel to Mars some 54.6 million kilometres away, has still not been able to rise above the unnecessary, useless, irrational and immature contradictions that plague us.
I fear for Bangladesh. The way people have been brainwashed in the past one-two decades is incredible. Once there had been space for differences of opinion in the country. People could, very naturally and without any fear, perhaps even with a bit of pride, claim that they did not believe in religion, or the afterlife, or heaven and hell, or winged horses flying about in space. Today if one says they do not believe in such things the person will have to apologise and recant or risk being killed. One religion, all stories of said religion, all customs, rituals and superstitions, everyone has to believe in all of these things together or risk inviting disaster. Can you truly imagine a wonderous country such as this? A country that had been built upon the promise of secularism has now closely and fatally embraced religion. Religious leaders have spread like a virus and Islamic lectures and teachings can be heard echoing from every locality. In the name of religion the youth are being brainwashed and inexorably trained into hating women and non-Muslims. Those who do not believe in religion are being incarcerated by the government while the ones who are spreading hate, envy, misogyny and terrorism in the name of religion on a daily basis are revered. They cannot be touched, their actions cannot be critiqued. There was talk in the middle to control the teachings and public lectures of certain leaders, but who has the grit and determination to interfere in such matters! With their silent encouragement the government and the common people, both blinded by religion, have made these local religious teachers so very powerful that they now do whatever they want with impunity and expect the government to beat a hasty retreat every time. They know fully well that the government will bow down to them as it has done before. Thanks to them a large number of the youth are now religious, some doggedly so, future Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz or Mir Sami Mubaswir in the making. Any day now explosions will perhaps rock Bangladesh.
The factory producing terrorists no longer needs the cover of night to operate. In broad daylight scores of people, all blinded by religion, are being incited to hate and murder non-Muslims because it will bring them good fortune and pave the way for their ascent to heaven without awaiting Judgement. What if one day these people, like the terrorists of Sri Lanka, decide to attack churches, temples or the mosques and places of worship of the Shias, Bahais and Ahmadiyyas? What if these people one day cause another heinous incident like the one at Holey Artisan Café? What if they bomb the hotels? I’m sure they will; the way terrorists activities are on the rise it will be surprising if they don’t. Numerous agents of ISIS have been killed but its ideology lives on and it’s making the rounds of the entire globe.
Which race has managed to progress by simply building temples and mosques or by remaining immersed in religious dogma? There is not a single example. Rather, whatever we recognise as the ideals of a civilised and developed nation, the kind of places where people of all religions wish to move to and settle, all such countries have managed to separate religion from state, education and society, perhaps almost even from life. Despite not being blinded by religion how are they so kind, tolerant and humanist? Truth be told religion has very little, if anything at all, to do with kindness and humanism. If there is anything it has any business with then that is politics. Politicians, as well as the religious leaders, use religion solely for their own gains.
I will kill even if I have to die in the process – many Muslims don’t turn back from becoming suicide bombers. There is no dearth of such Muslims in Bangladesh. Many Bangladeshis have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the ranks of ISIS, knowing fully well that they will perhaps die in the process. They consider such a death glorious and the fault lies in their beliefs. How these beliefs have come to be, what has helped in nurturing them, I doubt anyone has concerned themselves with finding the answers to these questions. Is the government doing anything to address the issue? Only killing terrorists in gunfights does not solve anything. The ones who had been beside themselves with grief at the shootings in the church in New Zealand are the same ones who are celebrating the terrorist attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka. Perhaps these people are the terrorists of tomorrow! It is the responsibility of the government to keep such potential threats under surveillance. This too is a sort of a warning. The way Sri Lanka had ignored the warnings it had received, if Bangladesh too makes the same mistake then the outcome of it will perhaps be as tragic as the former. Not once but time and time again.

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 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.

Down With Superstitions

Nearly 885 lives have been lost in the devastating floods in Kerala, besides a cumulative loss
of property worth almost twenty thousand crores. Millions of people have been rendered
homeless. In such a moment of crisis a well-renowned personality has declared to the media
that the natural calamity was a result of women wanting to enter the Sabrimala temple in
Kerala; apparently this has angered the resident deity Ayyappan who has retaliated with
floods. Not just the uneducated masses, this is what even those who have had a university
education believe. Women between ten and fifty are not allowed entry into the Sabrimala
temple and there is a case being heard in the Supreme Court about revoking this prohibition.
Just like the rest of Kerala, Sabrimala too has been affected by the floods. Arguably, it was
the move towards changing the age-old rules of entry into the temple complex that angered
Ayyappan in the first place; the moment the point was raised the deity became so incensed
that he made sure to veto it in his own way. S. Gurumurthy, a right-wing politician, has
written, ‘The judges of the Supreme Court better consider if there is a link between the
Sabrimala litigation and the heavy rains in Kerala. Among the million possible reasons
behind the floods if even one is this then I’m certain the people would not want the ruling to
go against Lord Ayyappa.’ A god-man added to this assessment with his own reasoning that
since people eat beef in Kerala that is what has caused the floods.
As we know very well Kerala is the only state in the country where there are hardly any
illiterate people; the literacy rate is almost a hundred percent. Kerala is a state the country
ought to be proud of. Yet, these reactions to the floods reveal that when it comes to
superstitions Kerala is no less than any other state in the country. In fact, I doubt if there is
any country or state or city or village in the world where there are no superstitions! Even
Christian missionaries in the west preach that by legitimizing abortion and homosexuality we
invite God’s wrath in the form of floods, etc. It has always been the nature of religious people
to try and hold back progress; they have accepted technology while simultaneously denying
science.
It’s not a new maneuver to try and link natural calamities with supernatural underpinnings. In
1934, after the devastating Bihar-Nepal earthquake, Mahatma Gandhi had reportedly declared

that the earthquake had been caused by social practices like untouchability practiced against
the Harijans. Some people believe that the reason behind the 2015 Sabah earthquake in
Malaysia was that a few people had climbed Mount Kinabalu and taken naked pictures of
themselves. About three years ago Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e
Islam Fazal of Pakistan, had gone on record to state that since women were wearing jeans
instead of pyjamas, it was causing more frequent earthquakes. According to him, such
shameless behavior by women was also the reason behind inflation. He had gone on to note
that women who did not cover themselves up like ‘sacks of flour’ were the weapons that were
going to bring down human civilization. Consequently, it was such ‘shameless girls’ who
were behind electricity problems and internal security issues in Pakistan, as well as issues
plaguing Baluchistan as well. He had recommended putting women in sacks, keeping them in
the house and establishing Sharia law, all of which were supposed to ensure that the Taliban
did not attack Pakistan time and again. It has been proved repeatedly that religious
fundamentalists are also severely misogynistic. Nevertheless no one has ever taken any
concrete steps anywhere against such blatant dissemination of their misogynous views.
Many people can’t seem to stand women wearing jeans. Dr. Rajith Kumar, a professor of
botany in Sree Sankara College, Kerala, had declared to the media that women who wear
jeans give birth to intersex or mentally disabled children. There is no dearth of such
superstitions in this country. A while back BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj had blamed Rahil
Gandhi’s visit to Kedarnath for the floods in Uttarakhand. Similarly, after the Kathmandu
earthquake, Sadvi Prachi of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had placed the blame yet again on
Rahul Gandhi’s Nepal trip. In fact at one point of time rumours had spread that murder
allegations brought against Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, had caused
the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
Such superstitious beliefs are prevalent in every household in the country. In the Kukke
Subramanya temple of Karnataka, during the months of November and December, there is a
three-day long festival called ‘Made Snana’ held every year which consists of lower-caste
people rolling around in the leftovers of Brahmins after they have finished eating. They
believe that rolling in the leftovers of those from higher castes will cure them of skin
diseases, help childless couples conceive and generally produce numerous boons. Nearly
35000 people participate in this ritual every year. Back in 1979 the High Court had ordered
for the ritual to be discontinued but it had to be reinstated after demands from devotees.

In an ancient ritual that continues to this day in Bijapur, babies are flung in the air with
someone waiting underneath to catch them as a way of seeking blessings from the gods. The
ones that survive and return to their mothers are thought to be blessed. The ones that die are
accepted as sacrifices. In the Sri Santeswar temple in Raichur numerous people gather every
year for this ‘religious festival’. Usually babies no more than two years old are chosen for
this dangerous game and since it has continued so for a few hundred years the police do not
interfere either. Many superstitious rituals and practices are prevalent in Gauhati’s Kamakhya
temple too.
The only way to combat superstitions is by way of science. It is the government that must
take up the onus of producing science-aware citizens. Rationalist, non-superstitious people
live risky lives in India today. Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead, Govind Pansare too was
similarly killed. Even today, in the biggest democracy of the world, speaking out against
superstitions can get you killed. The Anti-Superstition Bill that Dabholkar had been
pressurizing the Maharashtra government to pass had stipulations for punishment of those
found to be conning people by exploiting their superstitions. Practice of witchcraft, declaring
someone to be a witch, Aghoris, Ojha or witch doctors who claimed to be able to cure snake
bites, dog bites etc. – many such things were mentioned therein. The bill had been stuck in
the Assembly because various political and religious outfits had vehemently opposed it.
Knowledge and intelligence versus stupidity – it’s an eternal fight. It is not an easy task to
make people aware of their superstitions and misbeliefs. But down the ages rationalist
individuals have accomplished this very difficult task. Just as the freedom of expression and
the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs and customs are fundamental rights,cultivation
of a scientific outlook, inspiring humanity among others, the cultivation of knowledge and
resisting hate are fundamental duties of all citizens.
We know that science must be utilized to combat superstitions. But we must also be aware
that it is possible the scientist might not be entirely free of them either. The directors of
India’s space programme reportedly consulted the almanac before the launch of a satellite,
even going to the temple and smashing coconuts to seek divine blessings. The directors of
ISRO themselves prove beyond doubt that a knowledge of science and freedom from one’s
misbeliefs are not mutually inclusive categories. Numerous people bathe in the dirty and
polluted waters of the Ganga everyday, simply because they believe it to be holy. Just as
numerous devotees do the same in the waters of the Brahmaputra at Langalbandh,Narayanganj
– foul-smelling and heavily polluted by chemical wastes – while chanting ‘O
Louhitya, absolve me of my sins’.

Faith is a dangerous thing, especially when rendered sightless. Blind faith and superstitious
beliefs are like twin siblings. If we wish to save society then we must activate all possible
channels to combat both of them.

Can rapes in churches be prevented if priests are allowed to break the vow of celibacy?

A nun of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of Kottayam in Kerala has filed a rape case against none other than the bishop, alleging that numerous times over the past four years the man lured her to his quarters over various flimsy pretexts and raped her. The first incident occurred on May 2014 in a guest house in Kuravilangad. She had reported the incident to the church authorities back then but they chose not to take any action on the matter. Subsequently she was harassed by the bishop on a number of occasions, adding up to about thirteen different counts of rape and sexual assault. Having failed to get any justice from the church the nun was finally forced to seek the help of the police. A bishop is no ordinary individual; he is usually a man of immense influence among Christians and is chosen by priests as their guide and leader. Expectedly the people of the church are unwilling to accept such unsavoury allegations against such a holy person; consequently, their entire ire has been deflected towards the nun. She is being pressurised to drop the case and it has created a furore across the country.
Perhaps the worst rule in the Catholic church is that all priests, nuns and bishops have to take a vow of celibacy. They are not allowed to marry or have sex. Not just Christians, such vows of chastity or brahmacharya are common among Hindus, Jains and Buddhists too. That is not to say everyone unanimously adheres to oaths taken; some observed their vows piously, some stray from their path. The Buddhist monks of Japan used to flout their declarations of celibacy so much that they had to be eventually allowed to get married. I strongly believe that the laws making celibacy necessary for priests ought to be done away with. I am not claiming even once that such a move will ensure that women and children will no longer be sexually violated. But I do believe that it will at least give priests a choice as to whether they wish to remain celibate or not; if they wish to they can and no one will be able to force them otherwise. If celibacy no longer remains obligatory t will only result in an increase in the number of people who wish to join churches to serve God. It is a complete misconception that it is not possible to give oneself up to the service of the Lord while simultaneously performing one’s domestic duties. Rather, it is nearly impossible to put one’s mind to something while trying to repress physical unease or dissatisfaction. Sexual desire is as natural a phenomenon as thirst, it is not contrary to the divine. If God has created this universe then sexuality too is divine creation.
Despite sexual harassment being a systematic and rampant problem in the Indian subcontinent, a counter-movement akin to Me Too of the west has yet to emerge here. Here, if an influential person is accused of rape it does not create any inconvenience for them; instead people slut-shame the accuser or the survivor. In Kerala too the priests have not sided with the nun, they have come out in support of the accused bishop. One priest went as far as to ask the nun to sort the matter out and went on to claim, ‘We will buy a plot of land for a convent and all of you will be safely moved there. Drop the case.’ This was followed by outright threats when the nun refused to back down.
Around the same time that the nun from Kottayam was fighting bishop Franko Mulakkal of Jaladhar, in another convent in Kerala the dead body of a nun was recovered from a well. Blood stains were found in and around the scene and the deceased nun was identified as Susan. A while back another such body had been recovered, that time a nun called Abhaya. Did both these women commit suicide or were they killed?
Men cannot stand the fact that a woman can cause trouble for a man, regardless of the fact whether the man in question is a rapist or a murderer. Quite true to character P.C. George, a MLA of the state, has called the nun a prostitute simply because she has dared to report rape. ‘No one has doubt that the nun is a prostitute.’ Since she has mentioned thirteen counts of rape he has shot back with, ‘Twelve times she enjoyed it and the thirteenth time it’s rape? Why didn’t she complain the first time?’ Powerful and influential people including MLAs have been rattled by the turn of events. They wish to argue that since the nun did not report the incident the first time itself, the accusations of rape are untrue! Some want proof to determine if the bishop did indeed rape her. During the early days of the Me Too movement in Hollywood when actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd were coming out with their stories of sexual harassment involving powerful mogul Harvey Weinstein, did anyone turn around to ask them to furnish proof? Did anyone demand investigation into the matter? Not that I know of. A woman’s claim ‘I was raped’ is enough for her to be believed. No one rapes someone with witnesses in the scene. Be it the east or the west, everywhere it is the same thing that women do not easily report rape simply because in many occasions such an admission only results in further harassment. Whenever someone comes out to directly accuse a man in a position of influence they do so with acute awareness of the dangers involved. They know that society will easily label them as whores and their lives will be upended entirely. And yet they still go ahead with the allegations, all to the service of truth. In the west some women have at least taken such bold steps thanks to Me Too but in the Indian subcontinent harassed and violated women still have to remain silent on most occasions. In this case the nun from Kerala had to have been truly courageous to have not been daunted by the inevitable backlash. Not many of us can claim to be that brave. In this instance she has earned that bravery after thirteen counts of violation against her person. There are countless around us who remain afraid to report rape even after the hundredth time because they are terrified of being shamed by our inherently patriarchal society.
It cannot be said enough how patriarchal and misogynistic our society is. It also explains why the nun found herself alone after alleging rape, with even the church refusing to side with her. She was denied basic facilities like ration and stipend. Since the news broke in the media and became wider public knowledge, pressure had been steadily mounting demanding an investigation into the matter. That is perhaps the only reason why the authorities had to look into the matter, why the bishop was removed from his duties and why he was finally placed under arrest today. If the incident had not been reported in the newspapers it would have surely been hushed up and soon enough another dead nun would have been recovered from yet another well somewhere.
Some go so far as to claim that revoking the vow of celibacy will result in a decrease in the number of cases of sexual violence or rape of women and children involving the clergy. Celibacy is an irrational and absurd ritual and must be put an end to. But it has absolutely no correlation with curbing instances of rape. Rapists do not rape because they do not have a partner or because they are not married – they rape because patriarchy has taught them that they are the stronger sex, that women are inherently weaker and that they have the absolute right to control and torture the latter. Patriarchy has made men into such brutes, has poisoned them with so much cruelty, that they do not even hesitate to sexually violate innocent children.
All across Europe and America today people have gradually begun to voice their allegations against the Catholic church because the clergy have continued to sexually abuse children across centuries. The children had been quiet thus far but today many of them are adults and they want justice. The Pope cannot solve any problems, he merely goes around apologising. And this is not just in the churches. Imams of mosques and teachers of madrassas rape and abuse children with similar impunity, just as Hindu godmen cheat people, amass fabulous wealth and keep raping whoever they want. Some have recently been indicted and jailed too. Even Buddhists monks are known to have committed rape and murder, quite against the grain of popular belief about them being honest and nonviolent.
No godman, no imam, no priest, no bishop, in fact not even the Pope, must be allowed to get away if it’s found they have committed a crime. Everyone must be brought to justice. Across the globe the history of exploitation and persecution of people in the name of religion is an ancient one. If today we continue to remain silent, if we do not build up a resistance against those who wish to see this cycle of abuse continue, then our future is perhaps already doomed.

If we can accept western technology then why not adopt their modes of protest too?

This year the Nobel Prize in Literature will not be awarded. This is hardly the first time something like this is being done, but never before has the reason behind such a step been a sex scandal. The members of the Swedish Academy decide the recipient of the prize each year but this year the award has to be canceled because there are only ten extant members of the total council of eighteen. That is not enough to come to an agreement over a suitable recipient of the Nobel Prize. Where did the rest of the members of the council go? They have resigned because the husband of one of the members of the Academy has been accused of sexual harassment by eighteen different women. The Academy also used to financially aid an organisation founded by the accused. Besides, in the past this same man has been accused of leaking the names of the winners in advance having gained the information from his wife. After these uncomfortable incidents came to light some of the members of the Academy resigned. One must admit that it is because of the Me Too movement that so many women have come forward with their stories of harassment against such an influential man. The movement has provided immense impetus to women who have faced sexual violence to voice their accusations, to not be afraid and to never feel ashamed. It has provided many women with a lot of strength and assured them that no matter how rich or influential the accused men are, their stories of harassment will no longer remain dirty secrets, that their Time’s Up. In case of the Academy, if the women had not come forward the husband Jean Claude Arnaut would have remained installed as a virtuous man in the public eye. His reputation now lies in ruins, the Academy has snapped all ties with him and his wife too has had to pay for his indiscretions by resigning from her position in the Academy.
Hollywood too has gone through a storm recently. A series of women came forward and accused powerful producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Harvey was forced out from his own company. Accusations were leveled against Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck too; Spacey lost his deal with Netflix as a result while Affleck too has had to apologise for an old incident when he had groped a young journalist. Accusations were raised against director Oliver Stone that he had allegedly grabbed the breasts of a woman in a party twenty years ago, with the woman recently making the story public. Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas, Roman Polanski, David Copperfield are only a few among the nearly 122 celebrities against whom many women have alleged sexual harassment. Without consent they have grabbed breasts or touched buttocks, told sexually coloured jokes, lured women to their rooms under false pretexts, tried raping many of them and even succeeded with some. Not just in Hollywood, this is everywhere, in the music industry, in the world of art, in politics, business or media. The effect of Time’s Up has been felt in nearly all of these places. Not just ordinary women, celebrities have accused other celebrities of sexual harassment and have caused devastation in the lives of many such predatory men, causing them to lose their reputations, their careers as well as their clout. To give due credit, Me Too has managed to unmask many such predatory abusive men. The stronger Me Too has grown in the west, the more rabid general misogyny has become too. Time’s Up has added to the pressure, leading to many institutions crumbling and even ministers being forced to resign.

In the Cannes Film Festival this year, for the very first time, a hotline has been established to combat harassment. If anyone attempts any sort of indiscreet behaviour they will be immediately reported to the hotline. On fliers of the festival this year they have printed advice such as ‘Good behaviour is required’ ‘Don’t spoil the party, stop harassment’. This sort of an initiative by Cannes is commendable as well as essential.
A few days ago the Attorney General of New York Eric Schneiderman was forced to resign after four previous lovers alleged that he used to physically abuse them. Although Eric was a vocal crusader in the fight for gender equality he is now being regarded as a liar and fraud by the people, the shame forcing him out of office.

In the west when accusations of sexual harassment or abuse are raised even the most influential of men have to now go through shame and censure; they have to face public ridicule. In many cases they have to leave their high positions of authority, come to terms with their fall in society and their tarnished reputations. And how are things in our subcontinent? Here women continue to face torture and incredible sexual torment, rape or gang rape on a daily basis. Not just adults, even infants are no longer safe. Every day there is fresh news of abuse against a child, be it in Comilla or Kolkata. Let’s take India for instance. Even after accusations are proved the accused do not fear any backlash against their reputation. Back in 1988 a government official had accused the then DGP of Punjab Police K.P.S Gill of sexual harassment. The next year Gill was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour. Even after the accusations were proved in court the award wasn’t rescinded and nor did it affect Gill’s name in any adverse way. Various accusations of harassment, including allegations of rape, have been raised against as many as 48 MLAs and 3 MPs across party lines but the political parties hardly care about such data. If things come to a head they can always blame things on the violated woman’s clothes or her character and support rape too if need be. The only consequence is that no one will have to suffer any at all – since most people in the country are used to victim-shaming rather than shaming the predators.
Misogyny, abuse, rape have become so normalised in our societies that accusations leveled against men result in people shaming not the accused but the woman who has gone through the ordeal. Men don’t have to hang their heads in shame, women do. I speak from experience when I say that society has never criticized or rebuked any man who has shamed me or cheated me; it is I who has always had to bear the brunt of all abuse. I used to be in love with and was married to poet Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah a long time ago. In the second volume of my autobiography Utal Haoa (Restless Wind) I have written about his treatment of me, terrifying stories of his regular visits to brothels even after marriage and bringing back STDs to infect his wife with. After reading these accounts Bangladeshi society had felt no hatred for him; all their hatred had been directed at me. I had dared to speak about sex in public and that must make me a bad woman, a fallen woman. Because to them the only good woman is the kind that silently tolerates all abuse and torture at the hands of her husband, and the woman who successfully hides all her husband’s misdeeds is the one with the strongest character. In fact, after the revelations about Rudra nothing happened to his social standing other than his consistently surging popularity. This is unthinkable in a civilised nation. In the third volume of my autobiography Dwikhondito (Split) I have written about renowned author Syed Shamsul Haque’s frank admissions regarding his relationships with teenage girls. He had once taken me on a trip and force me into sharing a room with him at night. Even though I had averted any untoward incident the whole thing had been terribly uncomfortable. Did Syed Haque have to apologise after these revelations? Did he have to bow his head in shame? Did his social standing suffer? Not at all. He continued to lie with his head held high, went to court and hit me with a hundred crore lawsuit and got my book banned by the High Court. Syed Haque is no more but my book is still prohibited in Bangladesh. Those who were expected to be on the same side as freedom of speech and the independence of women, they had sided with Syed Haque, sang his praises and thrown the choicest of abuses at me, all because I had dared to publicly reveal the misdeeds of the great man.

This is our patriarchal misogynous society. Sunil Gangyopadhyay, the ex-president of Sahitya Akademi, had once groped me; I had been stunned by his audacity. Even after revealing this on social media no one had accused Gangyopadhyay of any crime, they had directed all the abuse at me. Many had figured out I was speaking the truth but they had sided with him nevertheless. They were convinced that a man had the right to sexually harass a woman. When Sunil had devoted himself to banning Dwikhandito he had repeatedly remarked that whatever happens between two people behind closed doors has no business being discussed in public. Since I had done exactly that in the book I was pronounced guilty and the men who had committed the actual crimes were deemed not guilty simply by virtue of the fact that they were men. What would Sunil have said about Me Too? Would he have also rebuked the western women who are revealing the abuse they have faced at the hands of men behind closed doors? No he wouldn’t have. He would have hailed them precisely because they are from the west, while had it been a woman from this region he would done all in his power to drive her out, to silence her, to bring down devastation upon her.
I am talking about my own experience but this can as well be the experience of any woman in the subcontinent. A Ram Rahim or an Asaram Bapu is punished, not to give women their due rights, but because such punishments help one reap immense political profits.

Unlike West’s ‘MeToo’, subcontinent’s men don’t hang their heads in shame. Women do

A Naked Protest

There’s a term called the ‘casting-couch’ – in simpler words, I will give you a good opportunity for success, but you have to sleep with me in exchange. The term may have emerged from the film industry but the casting-couch is omnipresent in the patriarchal society we inhabit. Married or unmarried, young or old, it has become normalised, almost commonplace, that the male employers will try and take advantage of a young job applicant.

Sri Reddy, a rising young Telugu actress, has launched a naked protest against leading directors and producers of the Telugu film industry about her experiences with this casting-couch. In response, Shivaji Raja, the president of the Movie Artists Association, threatened the strictest action against any other artist thinking of working with Sri. It is fairly obvious that under such circumstances no producer or director is going to be willing to work with her. Sri’s landlord too has handed her an eviction notice. She had wished to fight against discrimination only to be further discriminated against. Her stripping in public had most angered the same people who had stripped her in private. She has dared to speak out against rich and influential men; there’s no way they are going to let her be in peace!

Naked protests are nothing new. Of course, such a protest presumes certain physical and psychological risks since it is possible for anyone to retaliate with hatred or physically hurt the protestor at will. But nakedness is also strength. Even without any weapons it can make one feel powerful. Nakedness itself is a weapon. In the 80s Bangladesh, Noor Hossain, a poor auto-driver had taken off his shirt and painted in white ‘Let Democracy Be Free’ across his back and ‘Down with autocracy’ across his chest to march against the despotic Ershad government. The police had shot Noor Hossain through his chest and he had crumbled to the ground – a death that had shocked Bangladesh into silence. Noor Hossain was a symbol of the movement against tyranny in Bangladesh, a symbol of freedom. Many poems, songs, play were composed in his name. So many young lives have often been lost to police bullets while marching for freedom. But since martyrs of the Language Movement of 1952 no other death had devastated Bangladesh more than his.

A naked protest is not nudity, it is the act of taking off one’s clothes in public. It is the act of becoming utterly and completely vulnerable – a vulnerability that makes the protest against the oppressors much stronger. It also serves to bring into stark contrast the differences between the vulnerable and their persecutors. In such cases since it becomes immediately obvious who the oppressors are and who are the oppressed, a naked protest against discrimination is far more symbolic than most other forms of dissent. You have everything while I have nothing; you are powerful while I am not; you are huge while I am small – this is what a naked protest stands for. Is there anything more extraordinary than the sight of a bare chest pressed against the barrel of a loaded cannon? Don’t we remember that young Chinese man from 1989 standing in front of an advancing tank? When the tanks were reentering Tiananmen Square after having crushed to death nearly 10000 students the night before, all of whom had been protesting to save democracy, a lone unarmed youth had stopped the advancing machine of death with his own body. At that moment hadn’t the body been stronger than the tank? Of course it had. People across the world had expressed solidarity with that lone body back then. Then again in 1969 John Lennon of the iconic group The Beatles had stripped with his wife Yoko Ono in their hotel room in protest against the Vietnam War. He had called for peace instead of war, naming their protest Bed-Ins for Peace. He had asked people to make love, not war.

A naked protest attracts the attention of the people and the media. It sparks sympathy because the one who strips naked does so to stand by the dispossessed. Take the instances of rape committed by the army in Manipur for example. Driven to desperation by the sexual violence and the extra-judicial killings, a group of elderly Manipuri women had stripped down to nothing in 2004 and marched to the Kangla Fort division of the Assam Rifles with a banner that read ‘Indian Army, Come Rape Us’. Before this no other protest movement against rape had managed to strike a more lethal blow to the collective conscience in such a manner.

There have been naked protests the world over against various discriminatory practices. Last year nearly a hundred women in Argentina stripped in front of the court in Plaza de Mayo to protest against the various injustices and acts of violence being committed upon women, against the number of women being killed on a daily basis. Naked women lay down on the footpaths, many bodies intertwined together. Instead of causing sexual arousal such a scene could only make one tighten one’s jaws against the injustices being committed against women. At least that is what should happen. The same thing had happened in Argentina a couple of years ago too when women had stripped in front of the parliament to protest against the treatment of women as sex objects.

Women fighting for animal rights on behalf of PETA too have resorted to naked protests against the fashion industry and use of animal fur. They have put on animal masks and stripped to lie down on the roads amidst chants of ‘It’s better to go naked than wear fur’. FEMEN, a Ukrainian radical feminist activist group, has been holding naked protests across the world to campaign against oppression of women. Their protests are directed against religion, patriarchy, despotism, corruption and rape and torture of women. The women of FEMEN write their protest slogans on their own bare backs and bodies and turn up at various places to stage protests, to shock and disconcert people. The other day when Bill Cosby was being taken to court the entourage faced the women of FEMEN with slogans written on their bodies – ‘Women’s Lives Matter’. The Bill Cosbys of the world have always treated women as merely sex objects and FEMEN’s primary focus is to fight this sort of misogyny.

When women take off their tops during such protest all eyes are usually drawn to their breasts. Since they had breasts the police was quite prompt is dragging/carrying the activists of FEMEN away. However the police never displace the protesting men. Breasts are the most natural thing in the world and yet they are treated as the most unnatural. Breasts are utterly normal but when bared they are immediately treated as the most abnormal. Women protest against weapons and power using the gifts given to them by nature. Naked protests are less about the nakedness and much more about a revolutionary spirit. A woman’s nudity makes a man uncomfortable because men have always treated women’s bodies as their personal property and seeing this body bared in public makes them uneasy. The fact that women are the true custodians of their own bodies, the fact that they have a right to do whatever they want with their own bodies, there are not many who are willing to come to terms with this. Whether people are willing to accept it or not nudity is a sign of resistance.

Sri Reddy had been protesting against the casting-couch for quite some time. The protest only gained ground when she chose to strip. What she had wanted to say, no one had had time to hear it before. It was only after she decided to take off her clothes that people stopped to listen. Perhaps the only way to combat injustices being committed against one’s body is by using the body itself. The police were prompt in rushing Sri away from the site of her naked vigil while the powerful and the influential paid scant heed to her protest. Perhaps because patriarchy is so strong there that Sri Reddy’s act of rebellion did not manage to make any dents on its perpetuity. Perhaps if other women like Sri had protested they could have catapulted some visible change. Like how thousands had taken to the streets in Delhi to protest against the Nirbhaya rape.

Sri Reddy has confessed to have been a victim to the casting-couch. She has mentioned names of famous producers and directors who have used her for sexual favours and who wanted to sleep with her in exchange of giving her a break. Just like this, in Bollywood and other film industries, if masks begin to come off the faces of all the rapists pretending to be divine and holy in order to earn the adoration of people and who sexually exploit young girls in secret, then perhaps some good can be done for the betterment of society.

Despite having requisite qualifications many women fall prey to sexual exploitation by their male overlords who cannot see beyond women as sex objects. Most people assume that artists and writers are much more progressive and open-minded than other people, that they believe in the equality of the sexes much more than other men. However they too can be rapists just like other uneducated, insensitive and inhuman men. They too can take advantage of a woman’s helplessness and exploit her for sexual gains.

In Hollywood the masks are gradually coming off the faces of serial sexual abusers – Harvey Weinstein, Bryan Singer, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Spacey. Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, Dhallywood – in the numerous Woods that are there in the world, it won’t be enough if the sexual predators are only publicly exposed. Just as how the ground has been snatched away from under the feet of such men in Hollywood the same should happen to all others of their ilk. Men who continue to occupy positions of power and influence despite exploiting, harassing, insulting and torturing women just because they are women cannot be allowed to continue any longer. Let their reputations be swept away into oblivion by a tidal wave of comeuppance.

The Rapes at Kathua and Unnao

From the Europe and America the news has come that Christian priests have raped young boys inside Catholic churches. I haven’t investigated how prevalent it is in other Muslim countries, but I have often read in the newspapers of Bangladesh about Imams raping children in mosques, of a teacher at a Madrasa raping a four-, five- or six-year-old girl student inside the Madrasa. Now I’ve been told that some people brought an eight-year-old girl into a temple in Jammu and Kashmir and gangraped her. One of the rapists is Sanji Ram, who had the responsibility for looking after the temple. Sanji Ram’s relatives as well as two police officers, their friends, kept the eight-year-old girl imprisoned inside the temple and raped her. The girl used to take horses out to graze in Jammu. When one of her horses was lost, she went looking for it in the jungle, which is when the gang of rapists captured her and imprisoned her in the temple. After raping her for several days in succession, the valiant heroes smashed the girl’s head in with a rock and murdered her.

Had the girl been a Hindu and not a Muslim, perhaps those men would have captured, imprisoned, raped, and finally killed her in exactly the same way. Both the poor and the rich know that killing the poor usually reduces the chances of trouble. I don’t believe that those men would have allowed the girl to walk on unscathed in the jungle had she been a Hindu. A rape takes place in India every 14 minutes. Hindu men rape Hindu women every day. They don’t spare anyone, from old women to one-year-old children. Muslim men rape in the same way. They don’t spare any women of any age. Rapes are continuing. Murders, too. Those who rape are usually not interested in the name, address and religion of those they are raping. They’re only concerned with the body. The more tender it is, the more delicious. Or they only consider the ‘valiance’. There is no lack of people in the world who think barbarity is bravery.

Raping the women of the enemy is nothing new. Since, like the elephants and horses and land and houses of the enemy, their women too are considered property, the visors take away the elephants and horses, occupy the land and houses, burning and pillaging them, and rape the women. This is how it was been since ancient times. Subjugating the adversary by raping his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter, is an age-old practice. After killing jews in Arab lands, the prophet Mohammad had distributed the Jewish women amongst his militant companions for their pleasure. Pakistani soldiers raped two hundred thousand women in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Although the troops were Muslims, and so were the majority of the women they raped, resistance had been a bigger factor than religion. The Pakistanis looted and pillaged the homes of Bengalis and set them on fire, and raped Bengali women. They raped the women because the war provided an opportunity. Whenever there’s an opportunity men rape women all the time, irrespective of caste and creed, it doesn’t even need a war.

To tell the truth, there is no ongoing war between Hindus and Muslims in India. It is true that some people are trying to provoke a conflict, but the conflict has not reached the proportion where Hindus will rape Muslim women in droves, or vice versa. Hindu men have raped a hundred times more Hindu women than they have raped Muslim women. It’s the same story with Muslim men. It is not as though either of them has vowed to rape women of the other religion alone. They do it when they get the opportunity. Muslim men rape more of Muslim women because they’re the ones who are near at hand. It’s the same with Hindu men.

Was it merely the attraction of raping a Muslim that made seven people rape an eight-year-old girl for seven days, that even made a man travel all the way from Meerut to Jammu? Or was it the opportunity to rape a female child? The rapist from Meerut would have travelled to Jammu even if the eight-year-old had been a Hindu. Child rape is on the rise today. Whether they’re Hindus or Muslims, Buddhists or Christians, no one gives up the chance to rape a child these days. Perhaps rape of children has always existed, and it is just the increase in the number of news reports about it that makes it seem it is on the rise.

Had Hindu men never raped Hindu women, I would have assumed the Hindu males of Kathua raped the eight-year-old girl because she was a Muslim. Had Muslim men not raped anyone other than Hindu women, maybe it would have become clear that the conflict between Hindus and Muslims is increasing or that the war between them is becoming more intense. But society still has Muslims like Imdadul Rashidi, who do not want to start a riot by attacking his son’s Hindu murderers as an act of revenge. There are still Hindus like Yashpal Saxena who prefer to forgive the Muslim murderers of his son rather than avenge his death. The Indian subcontinent needs Hindus like Yashpal Saxena and Muslims like Imdadul Rashidi.

Over in Uttar Pradesh, an 18-year-old woman has accused an MLA named Kuldip Singh Singer and his brother of raping her. The alleged rapists are Rajputs, and the young woman, a Dalit. Some people are saying that upper-caste men have a tendency to rape lower-caste women. Because hatred is one of the factors causing rape, it is entirely possible that the upper caste rapes the lower caste out of hatred. But it isn’t as though upper caste men are not raping upper caste women. And lower caste men are raping lower caste women. So it is not caste but hatred for women, the notion that women are of a lower class, that they are maids and slaves, that they are brainless creatures, that is responsible. As many of us know, rape is not sexual intercourse, whatever else it might be. Rape is muscle power, male power, penis power. The bottomline: the act of putting a crown on, or flying the flag of victory from, the bald head of the male organ is also known as rape.

It has not yet been proven whether MLA Kuldip Sengar has raped the women from Unnao. But there will be nothing to be surprised at if it is proven. He did not rape the woman because he is a BJP MLA. A male MLA of the Congress or the SP or the CPM or Trinamool or any other political party could have raped her too. Because he is a man. It is the powerful who commit the most rapes. Because the powerful have arrangements to cover their tracks. And it is not a custom to punish the powerful. They are the ones who can commit crimes and get away untouched far more often than others.

The Kathua rape is being called communal, and it is being said that the rape in Unnao took place only because it was a BJP MLA. I believe that the rapists in both cases did what they did because they are men. They raped the women because they had the opportunity to do it. A patriarchal society has taught men that women are nothing but sex objects. Therefore there is no crime in gratifying themselves with women’s bodies in any way they please. A patriarchal society has taught men that women are helpless and powerless – no matter what their religion or age, what their caste or their lineage, whether they’re rich of poor, they belong to the lower classes. And men have the right to humiliate them, to torture them, to crush them. Which is why men rape them. One rape every 14 minutes.

Until this patriarchy is not abolished, until men do not dismiss equal rights for women, until men stop thinking of themselves as lords and of women as sex-slaves, all men – Hindu or Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Jew, poor or rich, upper caste or lower caste, legislator or minister, Imam or priest – will keep raping women.

Rapes will continue unhindered in temples, mosques, churches and pagodas because the custodians of these ‘holy’ places are all God-fearing men. God-fearing men do not consider rape a sin as they are well-aware that everything – notwithstanding Ishwar or Allah or Bhagaban or their respective religions – is undeniably misogynous.

REFORMATION OF ISLAM

There have been movements of reformation in all religions. Edicts and beliefs that are misogynous and contrary to human rights have been struck down and changes have been brought about by enacting laws. Even Islam has undergone much transformation over the years, although many Muslim women across the globe continue to be vocal about the need for far greater changes. They have been writing about it, debating over its ramifications. Some have stated that their love for Islam is so profound that they cannot bear the thought of not being allowed to keep the fasting during Ramadan in case they begin menstruating. Not only do they wish to fast while menstruating, they wish to pray too. Even though they are exempt from fasting and praying during these days, they do not wish to be left out. Such is their ardour for their faith that they cannot bear the thought of going a day without their customs. Besides they firmly believe that the prohibitions in Islam are simply there for the sake of personal hygiene. If that can be adequately taken care of then there remains no need for prohibitions against fasting or praying, or so they believe. They have declared that since nowhere in the Quran it is written explicitly that women cannot fast while menstruating, they are not going to follow such unfounded prohibitions. Many have also declared that they do not believe in the prohibition on sex during fasting in Ramadan. Nowhere in Islam has sex been called impure, especially sex between spouses. These women firmly believe that the purity of the union between a man and a woman can only have a positive influence on the fast. So they have ruled in favour of sexual intercourse during fasting. They have also questioned why vomiting should force someone to break the fast. According to them thoroughly rinsing one’s mouth afterwards should be enough to take care of the problem.

There will be many who will be livid on hearing these demands. That is hardly new information. People have always made demands; demands that have made some angry and made others pause and reflect. Some demands have been met, some haven’t been. Today, in many Muslim nations simply saying ‘talaq’ thrice does not necessarily guarantee a successful divorce. Child marriages have been prohibited, as have been hilla or halala (interim) marriages. The fasting during Ramadan is supposed to be observed from sunrise till sunset; many Muslims of northern Europe and America do not feel at ease fasting based on when the sun rises or sets. There’s usually daylight for a couple of hours in winter and an equally small stretch of night during summer. Islam has provided no specific directions for northern countries regarding the month of Ramzan. So Muslims there have figured out their own fasting schedules based simply on convenience. This is how things are reformed and this reformative impulse is necessary to be able to match steps with modern society.

There are mosques in England where women as well as homosexuals are allowed to serve as imams. In these mosques female imams lead the prayers with both men and women following her lead. Many wish to extricate themselves from age-old beliefs. This is the same for all religions, the need to expunge things that do not go with the tenets of modern society. Everyone, at least the ones who are freethinkers , know how much more excision Islam must undergo. It is the progressive Muslims who must come forward for this task. In this day and age, we make laws based on human rights and the women’s equality, we sing paeans to democracy, and we valorize the freedom of speech and expression. Religion too must learn to acknowledge human rights and equal rights of all. The more a certain faith can work in tandem with the epoch, the more the chance of its survival.

It’s not as if Islam is stuck in one place. It has undergone various changes at different times. The age of the Mu‘tazila had been a progressive one. Similarly one of the most glorious traditions of Islam is Sufism. Darkness usually resides very close to the light. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab of Arabia had dragged Islam into an abyss, all in the name of reformation. And today, fundamentalism is begetting terrorism. Of the numerous terrorist activities that go on across the world the most take place in countries where the majority population is Muslim. Even though the jihadist Muslims of the world are far lesser in number than the ordinary peace-loving ones, it’s the former who have become the symbol of Islam. Today most people conflate the ISIS, the Boko Haram, the Al-Qaeda with Muslims in general and the image of the ordinary, innocent Muslim has gradually become fuzzy. This, of course, is an alarming trend. Unless one can combat this jihadist ideology firmly, the future of the Muslim world is in dire straits. Jihadists ultimately hunt Muslims. The way they are slaughtering critics of Islam and freethinkers it is quite possible that one day soon the term Muslim will only denote the jihadists and their supporters. It is the duty of every progressive individual of the Muslim world to summarily separate religion from the state, law and education. No reformation is possible without this crucial amendment. And without any reformation it will not be possible to stake a claim to being a part of the civilized world, let alone demand respect.

My guileless mother used to read the same Quran that the murderers at ISIS read. My mother used to forgive, while the ISIS only kills. My mother did not accept many parts of the Quran literally; whichever part she failed to grasp she would usually fashion a workable explanation. The people at ISIS don’t do that, in that way they are quite like the Crusaders of the 7th Century. Despite there being many forward-thinking Muslims like my mother, the latter usually remain in the shadows in the background while the ones we see as vanguards are the relatively much smaller group of terrorists.

If this continues to persist then is it any wonder that the jihadists will continue to rule? The time has come to snatch away their weapons and turn Islam into a religion of peace. This is not the job for a government. We have never been lucky enough to have an entirely self-less government and it’s unlikely that will happen any time in the future. So this task rests on the modern, progressive individuals from Muslim societies who not only believe in human rights, women’s rights, queer rights, trans rights, and rights of all non-human creatures, they must also be able to acknowledge culture, civilization, science, evolution, and technological advancements. It will be possible to deal with the problem of jihad if one can understand the reasons that compel men and women to choose it in the first place. If these reasons can be eradicated then a solution to the problem ought not be too difficult to find.

Even the holy texts of monotheist faiths like Christianity and Judaism are replete with numerous instances of intolerance, misogyny and violation of human rights. But such things don’t usually bother most of the people of these faiths; they have mostly forgotten the finer details of what is there and what isn’t. Instead they have written laws foregrounding equal rights for all, devised policies on education premised on secular doctrines, formed their social structures based on individual autonomy, and espoused the ideals of democracy while building their nations. It will perhaps be the best outcome possible if all the Abrahamic faiths come to walk the same path, if Islam too can reform and remerge as a humanitarian faith in the twenty-first century.

Last year in Bangladesh, iftar has been distributed among the Muslims from the Iskon temples of the Hindus and prayer-halls of the Buddhists. Why can the Muslims not show a similar open-mindedness and generosity in spirit! They can give refuge to Hindus in need of aid in the mosques, even arrange for food and alms to be given to hungry Buddhists from there, and extend their support to any and every non-Muslim who might be in need. Let people know that Muslims are not only about hacking non-Muslims to death, that despite what might be written in a book Muslims can find it in themselves to be humane, generous, nonviolent and self-less.

Islam can only be reformed when Muslims agree to reform themselves.