10 April 2006

The Chairman,
Prime Minister’s High Level Committee for Preparation of a
Report on the Social, Economic, and Education Status of the
Muslim Community in India
New Delhi.                                                                                     

The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) is a mass organization of women with units in 22 states and a membership of more than 90 lakhs.  The vast majority of our members are poor rural and urban women and so naturally we have a very large number of poor Muslim women in our organization.  We also have several Muslim leaders at the Centre and in our State committees.

Since the 1990’s, AIDWA has been working seriously on the very adverse effects of globalisation and communalism on the status and livelihoods of women in our country.  We have been very active in campaigns for food, employment, civic amenities and land and also against the multi-faceted problem of dowry.  We are running hundreds of legal aid centres all over the country which have take up more than a hundred thousand cases of domestic violence, other forms of violence, divorce, desertion, property disputes etc.  Our campaigns against communalism and fundamentalism have also been very varied and consistent.

As a result of our work, AIDWA has gained a lot of experience of the problems that Muslim women face because of the fact of their being female members of a minority community that is feeling more and more threatened and besieged by the forces of majority communalism, that faces much State neglect and within which its own fundamentalists who are often inimical to women’s rights and independent identities.

On the basis of this understanding, AIDWA has held a very large number of Muslim women’s conventions all over the country.  In Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, U.P., and A.P. conventions have been held in several districts while in Delhi, MP, and West Bengal State-level conventions in the State capitals have been held.  Each convention was attended by between 125 and 1000 Muslim women along with women of other communities.  Through these conventions, AIDWA has tried to bring the participants closer to the organization, to make its members aware of and sensitive to the problems voiced, to develop leaders and activists from the Muslim community and to build the basis of effective campaigns and struggles around the demands finalized and articulated.

The kinds of issues and problems focused on in these conventions can be divided into different heads.  We will try to summarize these.

State neglect

In Delhi, Kaptur, Luck now, Bhopal Muslims reside mostly in mohallas inhabited by members of their own community for reasons of security in addition to historical reasons.  Here, it is important to note that there are some Housing Societies that do not allow Muslims to become their members.  They have included such a stipulation in their bye-laws.  .  Most of the women felt that this made them vulnerable to neglect by the municipal and government authorities.  Sanitation, water supply, electric supply, govt. hospitals and schools were all in short supply even when compared to areas inhabited by people of different communities belonging to the same socio-economic strata.

It is also known that Housing Societies in Gujarat where Muslims have purchased flats are not allowing them to inhabit these.  Such actions must be declared illegal and punished by the Govt

Some of the complaints voiced

In Delhi one of the participants from Devli village, Hajrah Begum, drew attention to the lack of any sewer line in the locality. This has forced the residents of the area to carry out disposal of sewage directly through open drains. The government primary school in the locality is situated in an open ground which cannot be used during the rainy season. Another participant, Anwari from Sri Ram Colony, pointed out that no kharanjas had been provided in the area. Further, there is no facility for piped drinking water and they
have to rely on water from hand-pumps which is not safe for drinking. Referring to conditions in the walled city, Kaifi particularly stressed on the discrimination which Muslim children had to face when they sought admission in government schools.
Participants from Karol Bagh spoke about the discrimination that they had to face in getting their voter identity cards made.  Similar conditions prevail in Okhla Vihar. Since no drinking water is available, residents have to procure their supplies from sources located at a distance of 2-3 km, for which they have to incur an expenditure of
nearly Rs.200-400 per month, which they are unable to afford.

In Bhopal a survey had been conducted by the organisation done among nearly 500 Muslim women of Bhopal.  A report of the findings was placed in the convention.  Nearly 66 % women said that unemployment is their biggest problem. 93 % of the women are anaemic and each woman is suffering from some health problem. As far as sanitation is concerned, nearly 55 % women reported that in their localities drains are not cleaned. 76 % women are dependent on public water supply.  34 % localities have liquor shops in between the jhuggi area and some said that though liquor shops are not in their lane or jhuggi area but not very far from it. Nearly 69 % of the women’s families have a monthly income of less than 1000/- but only 34 % have BPL cards and 90 % of these BPL cardholders complained about not getting the grain properly and regularly.

In Andhra    Conventions were held in 16 divisions of Hyderabad, at 2 places in Krishna district and one each in Warangal and Guntur districts.  Before these conventions, surveys of Muslim women were also carried out by the organization.  In Hyderabad, 2,000 women were surveyed;  1,000 in Vijayawada;  2,000 in Guntur;  1,000 in Warangal.  1,500 Muslim women in all participated in the Hyderabad conventions.  In Guntur, the number was 400.  In Warangal, 200.  In Vijayawada, 150.  In Enamour, 300 and in Euro, 50. The general findings of the surveys were that the neighbourhoods where the Muslims reside lack basic amenities, especially safe drinking water, pavements and drainage.  Most of the families do not own house-sites nor do they have ration-cards. The houses they inhabit are very cramped

In Lucknow, U.P.  A survey of 220 Muslim women was carried out by AIDWA activists and the findings were as follows: None of the women felt she enjoyed good health but, at the same time, none of them felt that they could afford any kind of medical treatment.  Of them, 188 were completely illiterate, 19 had passed the Vth class, 7 the VIIIth class, 2 the Intermediate exam and 2 were graduates.  All of them wanted to educate their children but more than 90% of their children spent only one or two years in school because they could not afford to pay their fees.  Not a single one of their children had ever received a scholarship.  Only 4 of the women had BPL cards and none of them had Antyodaya cards.  Their mohallas were not cleaned on a regular basis but 2 of them said that their Municipal Corporators were ‘good’ so their areas were occasionally cleaned. 

In Maharashtra  Being burkha-clad they are easily identifiable and this leads to their being subjected to insulting behaviour in public hospitals and Govt. offices and made fun of in schools.  There were also complaints about the effect of the communalization and  anti-Muslim bias of textbooks and also about the appointment of officials in academic and educational spheres who subscribe to a communal ideology.  The poor quality of teaching, facilities and attention provided in Govt. schools led to their children dropping out in spite of the economic sacrifices they were making in order to educate them.  They and their husbands were reluctant to send girls to far off schools where they would have to travel by public transport.  This and other  considerations led them to prefer Urdu medium schools for their daughters.  Also since education did not lead to jobs it was regarded as being more trouble than it was worth.  Also they felt that they faced discrimination in getting loans from the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana for BPL beneficiaries and loans for construction of houses.  Authorities were abusive when Muslims applied for new ration cards.  College scholarships or free school uniforms could not be availed of by needy Muslims for want of appropriate caste and income certificates.  All the women complained that the Wakf Board had done nothing to help any divorced woman that they knew of.
In West Bengal  the experience of the women was completely different from other States.  Here they did not have any sense of fear.  Many of them sent their daughters to madrasas but because the State Govt. has been giving aid to these in different ways including the modernization of the syllabus not only are they receiving a good education including vocational training but their interaction with children of other communities is also ensured since these madrasas have almost 40% non-Muslim children.  This is certainly an area where the West Bengal example should be emulated and the Central Govt. should intervene to make this possible. 

In general, all the Conventions have heard Muslim women complain about being humiliated by the police inside and outside of police stations;  about being harassed when they go to cast their votes. We feel that the Election Commission must ensure that minorities in general and minority women in particular are facilitated in accessing voter identity cards, being included in electoral rolls and in casting their votes in a free and fearless manner.  It is also important to ask the EC to provide information as to the number of Muslims among those whose names it has struck off the electoral rolls in the States going to the polls for Assembly elections in April and May 2006.

As far as Government schemes for their development are concerned,  most of them are completely ignorant about them and, when they do know about them, they have not had the slightest success in trying to access them.  Very few of them receive widow pensions, for example.  And none of them has been given a loan either by a bank or by any institution supposed to be helping the minorities financially.  In Ahmedabad, Muslim members of an SHG group set up by AIDWA could not open a bank account without the intervention of AIDWA leaders.  In this connection, we would like to add that many banks e.g. ICICI issue circulars to their branches telling them not to give loans to people living in certain areas of the city – these are always areas where most of the residents are Muslims.  The Govt. must intervene to stop this discriminatory practice.

Conditions of work

Apart from a couple of school and college teachers, none of the women attending these conventions worked in a job.  But most of them worked in the informal sectors.  They were zari workers, chikan workers, beedi workers, domestic workers, readymade garment workers etc.  Because of the seclusion that they feel imposed on them, most of them were not aware of who their employer was and this combined with dire poverty forced them to work for paltry wages.

In Lucknow (U.P.), all the women did some kind of work at home – either chikan embroidery or zardozi or fardi (badla) and they spent more than 5 hours on this work but earned between 15 and 20 rupees.  In Saharanpur a large number of women, who were from very poor background are working in furniture manufacturing units.  Generally they are engaged in polish work with very low wages (35 to 40 Rs. per day for 12 hours work). They work in terrible heat under tin shades without proper toilet facilities. The majority suffer from lung diseases but there is no provision for health insurance for them. Beedi workers complain of non-payment of statutory wages and often get only 10/- per thousand beedis (the law stipulates a minimum of 35/-).  They suffer from all kinds of chest and breathing problems as a result of the work they do and have no access to health facilities or insurance.  In Delhi, some of the women do the work of threading beads into necklaces. For one necklace of 100 tiny beads they receive 40 paise.  If they work from morning to night they can earn 40/-.  Others stick bindis and make packets.  They received 5/- for 44 packets.

Many women said that the Govt. should establish training centres for them – embroidery, dress-making etc. could be taught here.  If they could get loans to make products which could be bought by the Govt. or some agency, they could make a decent living. 

Discriminatory laws

Without any exceptions women participants complained about the way in which the laws governing their lives were being interpreted and implemented.  While the issue of Personal Laws is outside the purview of the Committee, we would like to point out that their interpretation and implementation in India do have very serious social and economic implications (mostly adverse) for Muslim women and they feel very strongly about this.
A beginning has to be made by the Government to at least codify these laws ensuring gender justice and a sensitivity to women’s social and economic status in the process. Practices considered sinful by Islam itself like the pronouncement of triple talaq in one sitting and halala and the practice of polygamy which has outlived its historical justifications need to be banned.  At the same time, laws that deprive Muslim women of the rights that their religion gives them like State laws that deny them inheritance in ancestral agricultural property need urgent amendment.  Also, unconstitutional and unlawful practices in the name of religion and tradition like ‘fatwas’ forcing couples who wish to live together to part, or hindering the participation of Muslim women in public life or the enforcement of dress codes must be stringently punished.

The kind of seclusion that is imposed on Muslim women in the name of tradition and also by the fear that the growth of majority communalism has created has also impacted adversely on the social and economic status.  In Bhopal, many of the speakers talked about the suspicion with which they were looked at, the kind of unpleasant questioning they were subjected to if they went outside their homes.  This naturally prevents them from finding work and also from accessing better wages.  In Lucknow, of the 220 women who attended the convention, only 8 had ever visited Hazratganj (the main area of the city).  Many of them talked about the link between their enforced seclusion and the fact that they do not know who they are doing chikan and zardozi work for and therefore they cannot go and ‘talk’ to them about their wages.

Shariat Courts/Darul Kazas/Jamats

A very large number of such institutions are in existence in all parts of India.  Many Muslim families go to them to settle family and property disputes because they feel that this is in keeping with their religious traditions and also because they have little faith in the lengthy and often unjust proceedings of the judicial system.  In some parts Tamil Nadu, educated women have fought for the option of forcing local Jamaats to include women members and there is an example of an all-woman Jamaat having been formed also.  There is not much information on the functioning of these.  In Lucknow, recently, a Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board was formed and it has also tried to intervene in domestic disputes but has not had much success mainly because men were not accepting their decisions given in favour of the women – in spite of the fact that most of these were in keeping with Islamic law.

Many Muslim bodies are bringing pressure on the Govt. to give judicial powers and recognition to these bodies.  This must be opposed tooth and nail.

The experience of Muslim women who have brought their disputes to our organization and also of the thousands who participated in our Conventions is that these institutions are thoroughly patriarchal in their approach.  They are guided by strong anti-woman prejudice and by their own acceptance of stereotyped images of ‘good’ women, ‘obedient wives’, ‘Islamic’ morality etc.  Very often they are not even willing to allow women the rights that Islam very clearly and unambiguously confers upon them e.g. Khula.  There are numerous examples of the decisions of such bodies that have been recounted to us which prove our point.

In Bhadrak, Orissa, Najma’s husband is supposed to have pronounced triple talaq in an inebriated state.  This was not heard by her or by anyone in her family and after her husband sobered down, they continued living together.  Many months later, the local Jamaat intervened, forcibly separated the couple, resorted to violence and is not allowing them to live together in the village.

In the Imrana case, the local Seminary and Jamaats were totally opposed to her living with her own husband after she had been raped by her father-in-law.

In Kerala, a Jamaat ordered the social boycott of a family whose infant daughter had danced in her school function.

A study done by Sehba Husain of the Centre for Women’s Developmental Studies (CWDS) of the working of the  Phulwari Sharif Darul Kaza says that between 1994-2000, the Central Shariat Court at Patna heard a total number of 1037 divorce cases.  Of these in only 94 were the women’s’ demands for Mehr and dowry met.  Of these 94 cases, only 36 got their Mehr and 11 their dowry back after several notices were issued to the husbands by the court.  The women who went to these courts complained that the way in which the maulana questions and pressurizes only them to adjust is very one-sided.  They said that most of them could not express themselves or explain their problems to the Qazi.  Often the Qazi was not convinced of their grievances specially those related to physical abuse.  The husbands did not bother to attend the hearings.  They also said that, in the case that their children were minors, they had to take two witnesses who were present at the time of their marriage along with either their father or brother to each hearing.  This was extremely inconvenient and beyond their means.

There are innumerable instances of the injustice that women suffer at the hands of these institutions and, therefore, every effort has to be made to prevent the Govt. from giving them any kind of judicial status or recognition.

Riot Victims
Communal tension and strife and the violence that these generate have the worst impact on every aspect of the lives of Muslim women who are their worst victims.  Whenever communal riots have erupted, AIDWA has sent fact-finding teams and its units have involved themselves in relief work and in campaigns for communal peace and harmony.

AIDWA was the first women’s organization to send a Central team to Gujarat on the 9th March, 2002.  They visited many of the camps set up for the riot victims and also met many of the women affected.  This was followed by many other visits and also by organizational efforts to bring Muslim and Hindu women into AIDWA units and also into SHGs.

The Central Govt. has to be made to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities of giving protection to its citizens, specially those belonging to the minorities and to women along with other marginalized and socially and historically oppressed sections. 

The Central Govt. must implement the recommendations and act on the findings of various Commissions of Inquiry into communal riots like the Sri Krishna Commission (Maharashtra), the Mathur Commission (UP) and those made on the Gujarat carnage by the NHRC and other institutions. 

Particularly in Gujarat where the constitutional rights of the minorities to the rights of residence and livelihood, freedom of expression and access to justice – in fact to the very right to life are being held in abeyance, the Central Govt. must use all its constitutional and legal powers to intervene,

Especially women riot victims who have been subjected to the most horrific acts of violence, who have seen their family members being killed in front of their eyes, who have witnessed their babies and children being butchered, who have lost their homes and their means of livelihood must receive a special relief and rehabilitation package from the Central Govt. 

Many children of the riot-affected are not able to go to school and this is a situation that needs immediate remedial action.

The Central Govt. must also initiate the enactment of special laws that will prevent such incidents from occurring in the future and must penalize those responsible for them.

Subhashini Ali          Kirti Singh               Sehba Farooqui                Maimoona Mollah