12.5.10

Subjugating the Muslim Woman

Subjugating the Muslim Woman
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, May 12

What is worse – the Dar-ul Uloom Deoband’s decree that a woman’s earnings are illegal because according to the Sharia her working among males is wrong or the Allahabad high court ruling that a non-Muslim bride must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim?

In both instances Islam is used to denigrate the position of women.

In the case of the edict, I fail to understand how it is being referred to as a fatwa by the media. This word is being abused in the most blatant manner. What the clerics of the Deoband seminary say is their point of view and they are often responding to specific queries by individuals. Their pronouncements and the questions asked are not universal statements or a general matter of concern or confusion among the Muslim populace.

Here is the Deoband version:

“It is unlawful (under the Sharia law) for Muslim women to work in government/private sectors where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without a veil.”


As happens often, newspapers have collected stray comments, and all from the religious perspective. Historical examples are a good foundation and place to start an argument, but they need not be used to deal with contemporary lifestyles and attitudes.

Why have the clerics woken up now? If they are supposed to be of any consequence and wish to be taken seriously, then must they wait for someone to raise a point? Don’t they see that thousands of women work and earn and help their families?

Have they not seen women beggars at traffic signals asking for money, displaying maimed children? There are Muslim women among them, too. If groups of Muslims keep talking about the real issue of economic backwardness, it is related to social backwardness that is forced upon them by these mullahs.

It is a tragedy that even where political issues are concerned women have to bear the brunt. Do the mullahs recall how they brought their women out with the same frankness they are against to reiterate their anti-terror position? Do the mullahs realise that everytime there is some backlash and they feel their religion is threatened it is the women who have to start observing the dress code, whether or not they themselves do as a mark of respect to their identity?

While there is no doubt some merit in making references to the Prophet’s liberalism and his wife Ayesha’s participation in the war, these are seen as special cases. For, in a monotheistic faith where the Prophet is held in complete reverence no one wants to emulate him or anyone from that period. They only wish to use their limited understanding of certain sayings in the Quran and either twist them or use them without any concern for the changing mores and requirements.

How many such edicts have been passed against men?

To be fair, there have been voices within the religious fraternity that have objected to this edict. These voices will be very few and not really stand out. It is the women who need to make themselves heard, both with their actions and their words.

The Dar-ul-Uloom is based in India and while the country does have provisions for personal laws, there is the Indian Constitution. If this gives us freedom to practise religion, then it will also intervene in criminal cases and any form of cruelty.

It is for this reason that the Allahabad court judgement goes against the principles of choice provided in the Constitution. The ruling states that matrimony between a non-Muslim woman and a Muslim man will be considered void as it goes against the tenets of the Quran.

This sort of blanket judgement bringing in religion can have disastrous consequences later. Sunita Jaiswal had filed a FIR against Dilbar Habib Siddiqui alleging that he had abducted her daughter Khushboo; she contended that she did not convert to Islam to buffer her case.

The court verdicts states:

“In our above conclusion we are fortified by the fact that in the affidavit and application filed by Khusboo herself subsequent to her alleged contract marriage, she has described herself as Khushboo and not by any Islamic name. As Khushboo, she could not have contracted marriage according to Muslim customs. In those referred documents she has addressed herself as Khushboo Jaiswal daughter of Rajesh Jaiswal.”

Therefore, her marriage is void, says the judgement.

One assumes that she was not abducted because she made the subsequent application. Therefore, unless she was forced, one cannot use that against Dilbar. While many people choose to use religion-specific names, some don’t. Khushboo is an Urdu word and could be a Muslim name. There have been several cases of celebrity nikaahs performed where the couples belong to different religions and opt to retain the cultural rituals of both sides of the family. It may not have religious sanction, but some qazis do conduct such nikaahs.

What if the couple got married under the Special Marriages Act and had it registered? No conversion or name change is required. I should hope the girl is not pressurised as this could well be a ruse to prevent a cross-religious alliance.

If the judge believes she is abducted, he should handle the case at that level as a criminal offence. There is no need to bring in religion and humiliate the young woman. This is just an invitation to divide people and bring in the religious heads to intervene in a personal matter. Incidentally, there was no reference to a non-Muslim male marrying a Muslim woman. The patriarchal mindset even of a secular judiciary believes that only the woman has to convert.

At this rate, the Deoband edict could well reach some high court in the country and we might have an Indian judge pronouncing that Muslim women in the work-place goes against the Sharia and therefore will be kept out of any professional role.

The state and religion are two entities and it is the business of both to protect all its citizens and members. Women are not lesser human beings and if we are expected to perform our duties, we are also in a position to demand our rights. And our rights include non-interference of the state and religion in matters of our well-being.

* * * End of article * * *


Updated on May 13 around 6.30 PM IST:

The role of the state and religion had come to the fore with regard to such religious edicts when P.Chidambaram applauded some maulvis on their stand against terrorism.

Here is an extract from my earlier piece The Farce of Fatwas:

Have the Jamiat or the Darul-uloom ever come to the forefront and fought for the dispossessed within the community? What has been the role of religious organisations during times of riots and such crises? Do they work with traumatised victims as human beings and not merely god’s soldiers? Give us the instance of a single head of such an organisation who is leading such proactive movements. They merely pontificate and pronounce edicts. The opinion of a handful of maulvis cannot be elevated to a diktat.
- - -

Updated on May 14, 5.25 PM IST:

Why does the TOI insist on using pictures such as these when talking about Muslim women in Mumbai? How many women dressed in this manner do you see even in the mohallas? They did it in the initial report and this one is in today's paper where the topic of discussion is the Urdu press opposing the fatwa. So, in effect, TOI is following in the footsteps of the Deoband. Why am I not surprised?


31 comments:

  1. it is totally scary how both the khap panchayat and the Deobandi's are passing stricutres that discriminate - and how in both cases it is excused as religious freedom.
    the question that needs to be asked is whether freedom of religion is an individual right or that of a community. if it is, as is the case of India, the latter - then it has serious implications for individual freedom

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  2. A point regarding the HC ruling that is mentioned in this post. My understanding is that this is a case of polygamy which is permissible only under Muslim marriage law and therefore the court ruling that both parties have to be Muslim. Seems a sensible verdict to me!
    I think the news article in TOI regarding this misrepresented the actual facts of the case and went for the sensationalist headlines as is their norm.

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  3. fv don't you see it is muslims who are the problem from terrorism to their stupid laws. Even then you support jihadis, own your eyes they won't let you write!!

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  4. Religion is the problem and in scriptures of all religion there are references to male being superior.The use of fatwa is lost when it is used like this.The papers also said about not celebrating feasts.What is that??

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  5. They say that it had never asked Muslim women not to work along with men and said it only suggested that working women should dress “properly.”

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  6. Anonymous, " don't you see it is Muslims..."

    Technology won't save you
    or your atmosphere
    You carry on like nothing's wrong
    But it could happen here
    Do you live for love?
    Do you live for fear?
    It's on the other side of life
    but it could happen here

    [CHORUS]
    Maybe too late
    Better find some shelter
    Maybe it's fate
    But it could happen
    Will we ever pick up all these pieces?
    I look around and all I see is pieces
    And if you think that you are free,
    Don't be so naive

    Catastrophes don't phase you
    Make you realize
    There's more to life than causing strife
    To build and enterprise
    Do you live for change?
    Or do you live for fear?
    History can prove this
    And it will happen here

    [CHORUS]

    [BRIDGE]
    Don't be so naive
    (no we never have and we never will)
    Don't be so afraid
    (no we never have and we never will)
    Don't be so naive
    (no we never have and we never will)
    Don't be so afraid
    (no we never have and we never will)

    (Do you live for love?
    Do you live for fear?
    It's a long way to the bottom
    But it could happen here)

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  7. It is unacceptable for religious clergy to demand a woman change her religion to be treated fairly. Even more shame on the worthless scumbags in the Allahabad high court for this heartless brainless and senseless verdict. Not to mention the deobandi scum perpetrating this Injustice.

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  8. Harini:

    In patriarchal societies, the concept of individual freedom or choice is non existent. It would upset the apple cart. What bothers me even more is how the state is participating in these ‘ritualistic’ edicts.

    The problem is that while certain establishments continue to abuse communities, when it comes to the ‘male’ aspect, they are so understanding about not ‘hurting the sentiments’.

    Noufel:

    You are right. It is a case of bigamy and the court did bring in the issue of fair treatementg to the first wife and kids. However, the aspect about conversion stands.

    Incidentally, a woman in Islam does have the right to initiate divorce proceedings (khula).

    I agree the TOI completely misrepresented the case.

    Anonymous:

    Muslims have problems, they are not the problem. I understand your concern about my being able to write, so thank you.

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  9. KB:

    We have to live with religion around us if not as a part of us. And women need to assert themselves. Yes, everyone is going ballistic quoting from some fatwa sites and what Muslims should do and not do. One of them is not to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday; there are different perceptions among the sects and more a battle for which of them is superior and has greater clout.

    They mess with my happy burday and they have had it.

    nimis540:

    I don’t understand the dress properly bit and do not accept anyone telling women how they should dress. If they have indeed stated that it is ok to work alongside men, then are these reports wrong? Even if they are, I do not trust these people.

    Their earlier fatwas and their role in the Imrana rape case are well-known.

    Will they tell men to dress properly because according to some Sharia they too have to follow certain codes. Shahrukh Khan in ankle-length pyjamas and Dilip Kumar with henna-coloured hair?

    Al:

    Thanks for the song, though it wasn’t for me :)

    We live in strange times where there is supposedly progress and yet mindsets have not changed.

    The judiciary has let off people for worse reasons. I recall one case where a man was released form prison after raping his daughter and the judge said he was “lonely”.

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  10. FV- glad to see your response is sensible unlike certain others. Well for bigamy to be permitted both have to be Muslim rite? I am thinking this cannot be used as an example of bias against woman.
    In the case of the fatwa I cant understand why these clergy get so much press. Its not as if they(or their fatwas) have much of a standing in the wider community in India. All this media publicity has been a catalyst for anyone and everyone looking for publicity to come up with such stuff. How else can you explain the recent spurt in fatwas. How else can you explain fatwa to a particular individual on how to dress(ref: Sani Mirza). I dont think the actual concept of fatwa even premits that!

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  11. Noufel writes: " glad to see your response is sensible unlike certain others. Well for bigamy to be permitted both have to be Muslim rite? I am thinking this cannot be used as an example of bias against woman."

    Oh, so it perfectly fine to abuse women as long as everyone involved is a muslim, eh? And this is sensible thinking, eh?

    The fact that laws are being applied unequally to humans based on gender is missed by all the cretins who think there is nothing wrong with the verdict, including the pieces of human garbage in the Allahabad high court that came up with this decision. Enough said.

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  12. FV: "We live in strange times where there is supposedly progress and yet mindsets have not changed."

    FV, Progress is mostly meant to be a cover to continue past practices and mindsets and retain current power equations and power centers.

    "Hey, we have shiny roads and tall buildings, so the fact that women are treated like property is not a real problem you see....I mean, if there are shiny buildings and fast cars, emancipated women can't be far behind....right?"

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  13. Noufel:

    Bigamy, or polygamy in Islam, was valid at a certain period in time for certain reasons and not to legitimise adultery. You must be aware that in the event of a man taking another wife, he has to go through several strict code of conduct in fairplay.

    Incidentally, such stray incidents draw attention to a practise that is rare in India. Bigamy among Hindus is not uncommon and now with the SC verdict regarding the 'other woman' there will be no stopping men who need a little more of the same.

    I am not taking a moral position, but a practical/legalistic one.

    Fatwas are best ignored.

    Al:

    You talk about the status quo of power centres and then say, as in mouth the words of those who believe in it:


    "Hey, we have shiny roads and tall buildings, so the fact that women are treated like property is not a real problem you see....I mean, if there are shiny buildings and fast cars, emancipated women can't be far behind....right?"

    This is what the advertising industry thrives on and the subliminal message remains.

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  14. Please check for updates on this in the body of the post itself.

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. Farzana,
    A multi-part response here ...
    For the clarity of your post-moderation posting these are labeled with Part headers.
    Part 1:
    -------------------------------
    While I am addressing you in the post much of my comments actually refer to the comments on your post in general and our own public discourse, in specifics (Notice the paradoxical shift from "specific blogpost comments" to "General Public discourse"). Quite an interesting sampling of opinions here, you see.
    At the foremost - I must point out to the "glaring sub-text" in our own public discourse. IMHO, it is not about "Gender Equality/Inequality" that is made out to be. The sub-text is essentially "biased communal" targetting muslims. Yes, Muslim Women are suppressed lot. No question about that. But then again, the sub-text in our public discourse has been about them as "Muslim Women" and not "Indian Women". Doesn't it apply to our semi-feudal Indian society - in general - irrespective of the caste and religious lines ? More importantly, what stage of economic development has empowered the women in their own family , and outside, enough to decide their lifestyles ? Proverbial Gorilla in the room is the media's role in skirting the depth of issues and conveniently donning progressive positions to denigrate a community. In this case, the mainstream domestic english media has adapted the western stereotype on Muslims.
    ---------------------------------
    (Part 1 of the multi-part posting ends here).

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  17. -------------------------------
    Part 2 of Multi-part Post starts here
    --------------------------------
    The public discourse consistently appears to be ignoring the role of economic well being of community and its co-relation with women's subjugation/empowerment. Given the generally prevalent gender bias (and associated power structure) , more economically backward the community less empowered the woment have been. The discourse in our mainstream media appears to accept this and stop just at this without going any further. Ever imagine a community , almost invariably under the gun to prove its nationalist credentials time and again , to be doing well in Market economy when the "Market Forces" at almost every level are terribly comunally biased ? For instance, in my own city Mumbai, average job-seeker from the central railway suburb of Mumbra would be viewed with suspicion equivalent to accusing the person of storing tonnes of RDX in backyard. Does this really bode well for the community ? And women - where does that live them ? With burqas ? A lifestyle to be donned by the "enlightened mdeia" as regressive ? Ever wondered why such judgements are never passed about average Rajasthani woman ?
    Given the current climate situation and the un-precedentedly soaring mercury in our country, we would normally expect average Indian women to be choosing set of cotton trousers and t-shirts over traditional attire. Sarees, Burqas and Salwar/Kurta hardly appear to be losing out to body friendly cottonware. So much for naive understanding on women's empowerment.
    Having said all of the above we are still left with Deobandis(Deobandis - as in nuts). The failure of our public discourse has been in highlighting them as somebody important and consequential and not marginalising them as un-important.
    Even more troublesome is our harping on stereotypes and ignoring the complexity.
    Cheers,
    Mahesh.
    -------------------------------
    Part 2 of Multi-part Post ends here
    --------------------------------

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  18. @FV- I totally concur with you on the polygamy issue. I know it was made permissible in order to account for exceptional circumstances and very much aware that there is a strict code of behaviour that men have to undertake in order to marry more than once. I am not sure the Muslim marriage law in India really does enough to safeguard the rights of the women in this regard.
    Thus in effect even i was very much focusing on the legality of the GC court ruling alone.

    @AL- I really couldnt make much sense what wwere in effect accusations against me. It seems like we are on different tracks altogether. But if you are saying that I condone abuse against women in any form whatsoever then you can go to hell for all I care

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  19. Noufel, well, playing with words won't do. You are condoning abuse of women by pretending that it is quite okay for women to be abused if religious laws say it is fine. So take your worthless sanctimony and shove it.

    On top of condoning such abuse, you have the goddamn audacity to pretend you have said nothing offensive.

    Perhaps you can explain how you reconcile your support for the UP high court verdict with your pretensions that you do not condone the abuse of women.

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  20. @Al- I am tired of trying to talk sense to you. That last bit of rubbish doesn't even deserve a response. You are just being a senseless moron! Adios!

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  21. Mahesh:

    Thank you for a detailed response. I had read a piece and written a sort of rejoinder to it that I have just posted here a while ago. Some of the points I make in reply to you might overlap.

    Part 1:

    Your sub-text is valid and on fact confirms the view of two establishments - the state and religion - subjugating women. Whether it is the religious heads treating the woman as a Muslim woman or the state doing so, as I understand it one feeds the other.

    If we did take your sub-text as the text, then gender inequality would be the subtext.

    Proverbial Gorilla in the room is the media's role in skirting the depth of issues and conveniently donning progressive positions to denigrate a community. In this case, the mainstream domestic english media has adapted the western stereotype on Muslims.

    True. And this has been discussed often here. I would like to also draw your attention to the 'appeasers'. I am quite sick of the 'we need to protect Muslim' brigade among non-Muslims. One does not see then correcting the wrongs within their own community. I find that the genuine non-partisan voices come from those without an agenda.
    - - -
    Part 2

    The public discourse consistently appears to be ignoring the role of economic well being of community and its co-relation with women's subjugation/empowerment...Ever imagine a community , almost invariably under the gun to prove its nationalist credentials time and again , to be doing well in Market economy when the "Market Forces" at almost every level are terribly comunally biased ? For instance, in my own city Mumbai, average job-seeker from the central railway suburb of Mumbra would be viewed with suspicion equivalent to accusing the person of storing tonnes of RDX in backyard. Does this really bode well for the community ? And women - where does that live them ? With burqas ? A lifestyle to be donned by the "enlightened mdeia" as regressive ? Ever wondered why such judgements are never passed about average Rajasthani woman ?

    You are, of course, right about taking the macro view. However, we do see subjugation in varied forms even among the non-backward sections of any community. We must also define economic well-being with respect to specific needs. I mean, when we talk about, say, the chikan kaarigars of Lucknow, where the work is done mostly by Muslim women then we might assume a certain level of empowerment. But that is not so, for within the ‘work circle’ there is exploitation of labour. The market economy comes with its own bells and whistles. I perfectly understand that men who are always under suspicion do not bode well for a community, and there is not denying there are discriminatory factors. Regarding the enlightened media the less said the better. I recall mentioning women from even certain wealthy communities covering their heads and what about the diktat by a Kolkata college against salwaar kameez?

    The failure is not only in not ignoring the Deobandis but playing into the hands of those who buffer the Deobandis – politicians and certain vested interests.

    PS: I assume by multi-part you meant these two. I am confirming because they sometimes do not land in my inbox.

    PPS: On a lighter note…

    Given the current climate situation and the un-precedentedly soaring mercury in our country, we would normally expect average Indian women to be choosing set of cotton trousers and t-shirts over traditional attire. Sarees, Burqas and Salwar/Kurta hardly appear to be losing out to body friendly cottonware. So much for naive understanding on women's empowerment.

    Salwaar kurtas and sarees are available in cotton and so are burqas. However, some women go for syhtetic fabrics because they are easy to wash, dry and need no ironing. We can say they are then not empowering the dhobi to maintain their wardrobe :)

    Have a good weekend...

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  22. Noufel:"I am tired of trying to talk sense to you."

    You are yet to even say anything of worth to me, genius, let alone "talk sense to me"....so you get no points for not trying.


    " That last bit of rubbish doesn't even deserve a response"

    In other words, you are too stupid to explain yourself and have been vomiting someone else's point of view as your own? Interesting.

    You are the typical two-bit religious yahoo who likes to pretend to be all fair and just until you are put on the spot to explain yourself. Your ilk has never given a response of worth, so you are nothing special.

    Shoo, go away.

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  23. Al,Noufel:

    Either there is scope for dialogue or there isn't. Name-calling won't get anyone anywhere.

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  24. FV, I wager Mr. Legal-nuance/Dr. truth-and-justice here will have severe problems and would have blown his gasket if a bunch of muslim men were forced to compromise on their religion by a bunch of Hindus. Enough said.

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  25. FV

    i fear you did what ToI is expert in doing - judging on the basis of incomplete information

    Hon'ble HC had to bring in religion in this specific case because the Muslim guy already had a wife. Indian constitution has separate acts for Hindu marriages and Muslim marriages.

    This particular case had been a non-issue if the Hindu girl was to be the first wife. No conversion needed. Also, special marriage act doesnot allow polygamy. So they can not be married citing that act.

    Your fear that Deoband might reach HC and get its edict/fatwa enforced is also incorrect.

    Constitution of India gives every Indian citizen a free right to practice any legal work in any part of India. Its only the marriage part which is governed by personal laws.


    And yes, Al before you start abusing me. Dont waste your energy

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  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  27. Someone wrote:
    "Hon'ble HC had to bring in religion in this specific case because the Muslim guy already had a wife. Indian constitution has separate acts for Hindu marriages and Muslim marriages."

    Still missing the point by a mile. The Indian constitution has become a convenient cover for all sorts of skullfuckery. The Indian constitution claims to treat all citizens equally, and these "hindu and muslim marriage acts" contradict that fundamental guarantee....of course, one needs more than the pair of family neurons to understand this rather obvious contradiction has to be resolved by giving precendence to the rights of the human rather than some worthles religious civil codes....but only in a country with a real legal system.

    (Edited post to make it slightly more pious.)

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  28. hi FV
    i think that it is perceived that the patriarchs can influence a vote bank - look at naveen jindal kowtowing ....while women follow orders of men while voting.
    Hopefully, the 33% reservation of seats for women in Parliament will change the situation - much as it has at the Panchayati Raj level.
    but, i do believe that the way to crack the deobandi's or the caste panchayats is a) by ignoring them b) by making them objects of ridicule ...:) they wield power because their communities listen to them ... if we stop listening they lose power !
    State intervention is of course required, but a lot of the change has to happen from within communities.

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  29. Farzana,
    You said :
    " However, we do see subjugation in varied forms even among the non-backward sections of any community. We must also define economic well-being with respect to specific needs."
    Agreed , however, earning capability in women has shown to alter (with varying degrees) her position within familial power structure. But again, I must agree with you in that co-relation not very linear. Despite being earning member it is not unusual to see women being subjugated in familial and social structures or subjected to asymmetrical division of labour and freedom.
    You said :
    "I mean, when we talk about, say, the chikan kaarigars of Lucknow, where the work is done mostly by Muslim women then we might assume a certain level of empowerment. But that is not so, for within the ‘work circle’ there is exploitation of labour. "
    Actually, the empowerment referred to within my earlier post was within the familial and social structure.
    Cheers,
    Mahesh.
    p.s.: The multi-part response had just two parts that you posted.
    p.p.s.: Thanks for excellent dig at the cotton garments and "dhobi empowerment" . :-)
    Have a nice weekend - whatever is left of it - and a good Week ahead.

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  30. I have already clarified my position regarding the TOI's incomplete report and there has been a discussion on it.

    Hi Harini:

    The way to handle Deobandis and the like is to ignore/ridicule them as you say. However, that can be a personal position. Will the media stop? Then, should I have written about it at all?

    These organisations wield power only partly because people listen to them, which is your pov. It is the state that uses them and people are forced to listen to them, the handful of people.

    Women at the Panchayati Raj level work with a different power structure. I am not pro-reservations for women. But that's for another time.

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  31. Mahesh:

    Agree with your agreement!

    Re. Actually, the empowerment referred to within my earlier post was within the familial and social structure

    as opposed to my work culture reference, I'd say that it does carry over. An earning member among the middle class too(we won't even talk about unskilled labour)has to shift roles seamlessly to be acceptable socially and within the family. An example is women chopping vegetables for the evening meal in the local trains of Mumbai. The ladies compartments give one a clear picture of the issues we are discussing. Unfortunately you do not have direct access to those compartments :)

    PPS: Glad you liked the dhobi dig.

    It is Monday and blue is a lovely colour. Enjoy...

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