A section of Muslims in India are in a state of denial. After the famous Mufti of Dar al Ulum Deoband refused to see the difference between rape and marriage and pronounced that rape of Imrana Ilahi annuls her marriage, it was time for some Indian Muslims to announce that no rape happened at all. It was all a media creation to malign the image of Islam and Muslims. A Muslim man after all cannot rape; such things do not happen in Muslim society. And if at all such a thing happened, it must be the women’s fault since she is the eternal temptress. ‘Rape’ cannot take place without the consent of women.
Such are the conclusions of a ‘Muslim delegation’ which went to Imrana’s village and came back with ‘proof’ that no rape took place and that it was merely a fight over property which was blown out of proportion by the media. Without asking what gives this ‘Muslim delegation’ the authority to conduct its ‘investigative journalism’, I must say that their conclusions bring added shame to the Muslims of India.
According to an article in the Milli Gazette, written by no less than its editor, the delegation was led by a Maulana who ‘counselled’ Imrana on "virtues of family life, forgiveness and solving problems in private". The women herself, when she tried to speak was asked to shut up. No questions were asked to her. Going by the tone of this piece, which calls her "an illiterate, low caste village woman", it seems that the delegation did not see it fit to consider her opinion.
After all despite the fact that there are nine women to ten Muslim men in India, the AIMPLB, with its lone women member is doing quite well! What is the need for women to speak for themselves? And talking about "illiterate" women, it is demeaning to even listen to what they are saying. Their work is to live inside their homes, rear a family, learn to forget and forgive and more importantly never make a private matter public.
Imrana is guilty. She chose to make a matter a ‘private’ matter public. She has transgressed the normative boundaries so well laid by Muslims like the Maulana who led this delegation. She has brought bad name to Muslims and Islam. She must be proven guilty and punished. And she has been. The best and time tested way to do this has been to play with a woman’s ‘character’.
The article approvingly quotes an opinion of a local resident who is more that willing to say that she is a ‘loose character’ woman. The alleged rapist himself is made out to be a ‘toiler’ and a ‘good man’. He simply can’t do such a thing, since he is too old. No one heard the scream of the woman and there was no medical examination.
After being shamefully exposed of their double standards, sections of Muslims took refuge in the argument that Imrana’s issue was a criminal case and that the law of the land should take its own course. According to the law of the land, a woman’s complaint that she has been raped is admissible as evidence. What right then these ‘investigators’ have not to believe in what she is saying? Going even beyond that I would like to ask what right do they have to make this investigation?
But Imrana after all, is an illiterate woman. She herself cannot do all this. The artcile says that she was bribed and coerced into making this a public issue by "secularists, feminists, communists and Hindutvites". After all, it were these very people who made it into a big issue, which otherwise would have remained a local ordinary and even routine happening.
So much glare on the Muslims? And all for wrong reasons. This is not tolerable. Secularists are fine when they fight the Modi government against the atrocities in Gujarat. But what is this; they are now attacking the Muslim community. What kind of secularism is this? Did not secularism mean non-interference in Muslim affairs? Secularism should only mean fighting Hindutva. And these communists? We know in heart of our hearts that they are the worst enemies of Muslims and Islam. But they fight against the BJP and RSS and that’s why we befriended them. But now they have shown their true colours and are defaming us through this episode. The artcile also blames the media. They argue that had it not been for the media, the issue would not have got so much publicity.
The article also sees a grand conspiracy to abolish the Muslim Personal Law in India. This is simply not true. Barring the BJP and some independent voices, there was no talk of abolishing Muslim Personal Law. And the BJP does not need an Imrana to voice its age old call for a Uniform Civil Code in India. The arguments that were made were in favour of reform in Muslim Personal Law, given the fact that in light of the Imrana incident, that law did not seem to do justice with the victim.
Blaming secularists, communists and the media only shows the writer of this article in poor light. Secularism does not mean protecting conservative Muslim interest as they seem to believe. And it is within the right of any Indian to voice their concern on denial of justice in any community. Similarly women’s organizations have done credible work to make our laws more gender just and they are within their right to raise this issue. Muslim issues are not and should not, be made immune from the general concerns of Indian public, as sections of Muslims would like to have.
And before blaming the media, Muslims should recall their commendable role during the Hindutva sponsored Gujarat carnage. It is completely hypocritical to blame them now that they are raising issues of the Muslim community. Imrana’s issue was not an isolated stray incident, but has important implications for the rights of Muslim women and even inter-community relations. The media is well within its rights to debate this issue of public importance.
Blaming secularism and media have been the pet themes of Hindutva parties. For all the ills that have plagued India, they have blamed secularism. In more recent memory they have blamed the media for the Gujarat riots. The truth is that it was only through a very courageous media that it was pressured to do something about it. A section of Muslims and the forces of Hindutva speak the same language. Both blame secularism and a free press.
While I can well understand Hindutva’s dislike for secularism, its articulation by the Muslims is simply baffling. Had it not been for secularism and secularists, the status of Muslims would have been very different by now. Instead of strengthening secularism, they are casting aspersions on it. But as I said before, there is a section among Muslims who think that secularism is nothing but the protection of orthodox Muslim interest. They want a secular state, not secularisation of their society.
Rather than blaming others for conspiring against them all the time, it would be far better if Muslims turned inwards for some introspection. There are lots of issues which should make heads hang in shame. Appalling is the level of education, even more appalling is the level of employment. There is a reluctance to plan families. There is the shameful case of forcible marriage of girls in Malabar and Bombay. I say forcible because they are given away in ‘marriage’ often by their poor parents to visiting Sheikhs from Gulf, who after paying a dowry throw them out like used condoms.
Will these issues ever become a matter of debate within the Muslim community? I am not very hopeful. Part of the reason is that Muslim poverty and despondency has become functional for the survival of sections of Muslim political elite. And till the time these parasites are at the helm, nothing good is going to happen to Muslims in India.
Arshad Alam is International Ford Fellow, Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural History, University of Erfurt, Germany.