Wednesday 2 August 2023

Indian Muslim women don’t need male ‘saviours’ – Hindu or Muslim


Living under a Hindu nationalist regime for almost a decade, the traditional perception of men as protectors and women as preservers of cultural traditions is increasingly getting reinforced in shaping people’s identities in contemporary India – among both Hindus and Muslims.

The recurring calls for genocide, rising hate crimes and everyday humiliation of Muslims at the hands of Hindu nationalists pose an existential crisis for the entire Muslim community. A few men, however, are internalising this crisis as a personal failing on account of their traditional gender role as protectors of their community and are adopting exaggerated and superficial masculine traits as a defence mechanism.

The trolling of Fatima, a non-hijabi woman, was centred around her Muslim name and the validity of her faith. In the case of Nabiya, meanwhile, accounts with large followings on the internet circulated images of her showing her sitting with male non-Muslim friends – an act that, according to those targeting her, brought disrespect to the hijab.

The Muslim trolls ironically attacked her through the exact same stereotypical beliefs that the Hindu right-wing associates with Muslim women, according to which the hijab worn by her is not a representation of her faith but rather a symbol of her subjugation to the men of her community.

The nature of the trolling that these women were subjected to was based on the belief that liberal or feminist thought within Muslim women has influenced them to go against the men of the community, misuse their names or their religious symbols (in this case, the hijab) while jeopardising the honour of the Muslim community. A troubling culture of victim blaming is breeding, where the Islamophobic violence directed towards Muslims is being blamed on the weakest of all within the community.

Despite putting their safety at risk to speak against the rising Islamophobia in India, women like Fatima and Nabiya are being labelled by some as traitors to the community. This has nothing to do with genuine morality and everything to do with the display of policing. A display of male supremacy, cloaked in the age-old guise of traditional morality.

While the online attack on Nabiya and Fatima is vile and harsh, they are urban, relatively privileged women – a status that affords them at least some level of protection. Women who come from marginalised sections have little to no support, once they have become subjects of public humiliation. This in turn can lead to social ostracisation and even physical violence, all of which is bound to have a profound negative impact on their psychological wellbeing.

It is difficult to speak up against the implications of these attacks. There already exists in India and many other parts of the world an unfair, made-up narrative that frames all Muslim men as oppressive, violent and predatory. Being aware of how her own oppression will be weaponised against her community and will embolden a system that is constantly on the lookout for excuses to put stamps on these stereotypes, the Muslim woman is under pressure to submit silently to this new, rising threat.

This double silencing not only limits her capacity to protect herself against violence but also denies her any political agency, reducing her to either a spectator, a supporter or a battleground.

She is forced to choose from a pre-written binary – one where she can either be “saved” by the Hindu man or “protected” by the Muslim man.

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