HTLS column by Syeda Hameed: Fresh mindset needed to break patriarchal mould

Updated: Nov 28, 2016 07:29 IST

Syeda Hameed

The change that India needs is a new mindset for men about everything
which concerns gender. No matter what class, caste or community, this
one obduracy refuses to abate. No matter what safeguards and laws are
enacted by the State, which it does under unrelenting pressure from
women’s groups, there is no banishing the ‘benign’ contention that
boys will be boys, men will be men! This adage holds true not just for
India but for the entire globe, steeped as it is in a patriarchal

My limited brief for this piece is Muslim women and the current storm
over the issues of triple talaq, polygamy, propelling the move towards
a Uniform Civil Code. So much has been spoken and written that I can
imagine the reader not wanting to hear or read another word. So let me
make my point by telling a story, my story.

Twenty years ago, I challenged myself to examine the condition of
Muslim women in India. This impulse was born of a sense of guilt. I
saw myself as one who, ‘despite’ being Muslim, was never denied
anything that really mattered in life. When I say mattered, I mean
what mattered to my family, namely education, and that too the very
best we could afford. Wealth was never on our ‘mattered’ list. When I
looked around, I saw my co-religionists, Muslim women, as the most
wretched lot. At the time my interest in the matter was mostly

I had just completed my work at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. In my eyes Maulana’s stature had become
huge. I found him one among three tallest leaders, not only of Muslims
but of all Indians. I had also completed my translation of works of
Maulana Altaf Husain Hali, who was India’s first and most profound
feminist poet. He was the first poet who used his writings to lambast
Muslims for their state of inertia and inability to lift themselves
from the depths into which they have sunk. Despite these rehnumas,
what made Muslims men and women lag so far behind, I asked.

To understand this, I decided to hold public hearings all over the
country to which I invited Muslim women to speak out what was in their
hearts. I selected 18 cities from states with large Muslim population.
Another criteria was places where I could find partners who would
understand my objective. For one year I roamed the country collecting
facts, while continuing my other work as a member of the National
Commission for Women.

At the end of the year I presented a report, Voice of the Voiceless
Status of Muslim Women in India. I recorded that women had come out in
hundreds at each of the 18 locations which were mapped in the report.
They had spoken foremost about their abject poverty, then about the
danger of being given arbitrary talaq and thrown out of their homes.
Some spoke of polygamy and its squeeze on already meagre resources.
Beedi rollers, zardozi wokers, domestic workers, labourers, women came
in droves. All staggering under triple burdens.

The report was shared with the central and state governments, Muslim
leaders and voluntary organisations. A special reference was made to
the Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB) who we met in the process of our
documentation. We were assured by its venerable chair Maulana Ali
Hasan Nadwi that our findings will find space in their deliberations.

So how is my story relevant to the subject of this piece?

Mine was one small struggle among thousands of struggles of women to
get gender justice, whether in personal or public spheres. In each
instance, it was the fiercely persistent women who got enlightened
judgments on common issues such as violence, rape, sexual harassment
and dowry. Although the same cohort, even after 30 years we are unable
to get the Women’s Reservation Bill passed. At central and state
levels, men ensured that the bill died a thousand deaths.

Similarly, Muslim women’s struggles have led to reversing of the
intent in Muslim Women’s (Right to Protection) Act 1986. The SC’s
liberal interpretation gave them right to ‘maintenance for life’
during their period of ‘iddat’. Whatever gains women have been made
are also due to feminist men who walk along with the women.

History will always remember Danial Latifi whose arguments led to the
SC judgment. But the largest majority of men have no gender lens. In
my own experience, the gains I made in my negotiation with MPLB under
Maulana Ali Miyan have been negated by the current dispensation. Not
only are they pursuing a ‘lost’ agenda in their submission to SC but
by refusing to see the imperative of internal reform they are exposing
the most vulnerable Muslims to the rigours of a state which is
avowedly against this second largest population of Muslims in the

The change that India needs is a massive crash course in dismantling
the patriarchal order and looking at the world through a gendered
lens. As regards Muslims, had those who call themselves Alims used
their ilm to understand what thousands of women petitioners were
saying to us, they would have themselves applied the corrective. And
banned the obnoxious practice of triple talaq, called talaq-e-bidat
(meaning forbidden), anti-Quran and anti-Islam. They would have banned
polygamy instead of using the argument that the practice ensures that
women are ‘protected’ instead of being killed or burnt by disgruntled

This change starts with the child, both male and female. It is seeded
at birth and nurtured at home and school. The process is long but its
results are enduring.

The writer is an educationist, women’s rights activist, and a former
member of the Planning Commission of India

Peace Is Doable

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"Green Youth Movement" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email 
To post to this group, send an email to
Visit this group at
For more options, visit

Reply via email to