Mullahs in Islamabad, Bajrang Dal in Bhopal

From Brothels in Islamabad to a Bandh in Bhopal
by Farzana Versey
13 April, 2007, Countercurrents

Look forward to a Bhopal bandh. The BJP-RSS combine has decided that two adults from different religions getting married is wrong. This warrants the state to close shop. Praful Goradia, who TV anchors politely refer to as a Hindutva “ideologue”, had the gall to say that it is okay if the marriage is between a Hindu and Christian or a Parsi, but with a Muslim it would be one-sided. You see, in Mr. Goradia’s world a Muslim will force the partner to convert, and if we are speaking about a male then the poor woman will be dismissed with those three words “talaq, talaq, talaq”.

He did not have the decency to at least check on what had really happened. Priyanka and Umer fell in love. They got married. And Umer went through a ‘purification’ ceremony after which he became a Hindu and is now called Umesh.

Yet, her parents had filed a case that he had kidnapped her. Shakeel, his brother, was arrested in Bhopal and detained for five days. The couple had fled to Mumbai and cannot return home, and Shakeel has had to get police protection.

The saffron parties have been demonstrating before Umer’s house even though they know he is now Umesh. Finally, they have decided to call for a bandh.

Without getting into the socio-psychological dimensions of conversions and the state of inter-religious marriages, I would like to know why this horrendous attitude is dismissed as ridiculous when it is dangerous. We make a huge noise about freedom of speech. What about freedom of personal choice?

The Hindutva dramatis personae are notorious for passing off their vile methods as a circus. Most people become indulgent and merely feel a bit worried by the sticks and stones mode of conduct. This is revolting and regressive.

They consistently find soft targets and manage to stay in power. We in India fancy ourselves as a paper democracy. It is this democracy that has come up with some very dictatorial means of keeping the status quo and, needless to say, it is women and the backward classes that suffer the most. They tell us what is ‘morally’ right. They give us our social values. We keep quiet. We do not put them behind bars.

Then why does everyone get alarmist when it comes to issues that have to do with Islam?

Now let us visit our neighbour. “Pakistan to close down brothels in Islamabad,” stated a recent headline. The PTI report went on to say, “Already facing a multiplicity of problems, Pakistan’s government has apparently decided to resolve the stand-off with a group of radical Islamic clerics by accepting one of their key demands of closing down all brothels in the capital city.”

I am against clerical interference or even the interference by the Establishment in matters of social concern, but we must understand that Pakistan has chosen to adopt an Islamic Constitution. The protests by voluntary agencies are valid, for any society that wishes to be active socially must provide a counter voice. However, is the shutting down of brothels evidence of fanaticism?

Go to any red-light area in India and see how the cops operate. They drag women out, demand money from the madams and even use the women for their own pleasure. I think I know a bit because I have been involved with a NGO working in those parts. The fact is that most of these women are sold here by their own relatives and even parents. There are no legal provisions to look after their needs.

This is precisely the reason I am a bit uncertain about the way the liberal Pakistani society has reacted. It is all right to rubbish the clerics, but how many have made proactive suggestions? Mullahs and their counterparts in any country are not known to be reasonable. And what happens to the women involved in prostitution? Would there be safeguards and alternative employment for them? What about the illegal call girl industry that exists and will only thrive more?

Fundamentalists in any society are together with the government. It is a professional and political necessity for them. Islam is not on their minds. And those goons in Bhopal are not concerned about Hinduism. They are trying to feed a frenzy.

Will we call this a ‘fatwa’? No, of course not. That is considered the prerogative of the ‘backward’ Islamists. So, a couple of days ago when there was a religious decree – denied later – against Pakistan’s tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar for hugging her paragliding instructor on a visit to France, everyone who had concern writ large on their faces stood up and wanted to be counted. Ms. Bakhtiar was not striking out on her own. She said, “I do not feel ashamed at all for what I did and I am not afraid of anyone except god.”

Why bring in god here? You want to hug, then hug. Be happy and open about it. Do not seek moral sanction.

And I do wonder why no one seems to realise that when the hip and happening Benazir Bhutto decided to give up her western clothes and be a real conservative there wasn't any protest then. Even today, will the liberals in Pakistan ask her not to cover her head? Will they ask her why she did nothing to bring about any changes in the laws to benefit women when she was in power?

There is a neat hierarchy playing here. The elitists versus the non-elitists. Brothels, hugs and inter-religious marriages are chic. There is drama. The mullahs and mahants feed on it and so do those who want to go against the tide.

The minister represents her government and is educated enough to understand that going paragliding and embracing your instructor may be a private matter, but it will be splashed in the papers. People will react. Did we in India not react when Padmini Kolhapure (a film star, for god’s sake) planted a peck on the cheek of Prince Charles years ago or when Shabana Azmi kissed Nelson Mandela?

Just because we have this secular republic seal does not make us superior. We have shut down dance bars, we clear up places so that couples are not seen in public, we go and vandalise shops on Valentine’s Day.

The reason fundamentalists are finding their way in easier is because just as there is no one stream of Islam or Hinduism, the people who oppose too do not provide reasonable alternatives. Half-hearted rhetoric will get us nowhere.

We are becoming pawns in a game we do not even know how to play.


  1. blogR
    For such a A GREAT, superb, magnificent article.

    I would add. Alternatives are always there , if we are sincere and not hypocrits in our efforts and intentions.

  2. I can talk and 'talk'...


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