Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mosques for muslims only?

I recently visited the city of nawabs. Lucknow, like other cities, is changing with an accelerated speed. As of now, the domes and minarets co-exist with the stone world of Mayawati. Gomtiji has also managed to retain and consolidate her identity. In the daylight, one can admire the beauty of the past and after dusk, get smitten by the well-lighted fountains and symbols of Mayawati's 'reign and glory'. Whatever i could get of the existing culture, I loved it as it was quite similar to the culture of my native place.

But I was prevented from falling in love head over heels with this city when my heels stumbled upon the ruins of an ancient mosque and i was asked to control myself.
The signboard read "Non Muslims cannot proceed further from this point". I would have been less disappointed(comparatively less) if the barrier was a gender one. I don't know if this is the case with all mosques or was it because this one belonged to the supposedly more orthodox, shia sect. But it is really farce that the house of God has to be exclusive. And when they say that only Muslims can enter, they should define one. Because according to the Quran, anyone who believes in God is a muslim. If they mean that a Muslim is one who follows the Quran, well then there are hardly any Muslims around.
There are some temples in the south which forbid the entry of lower castes and non-Hindus. But Hinduism acknowledges inequality of castes. So in this case, unlike Islam which emphasis on equality, Hinduism does not contradict itself. I don't know if this discrimination is in the Quran or not. But how does it matter if it is not? For every accusation of rigidity, people say, "this is not in Quran. It is because of the society." I fail to understand that if all religions have developed in the same regions and societies then why are they not so rigid? And if for every god-damn issue, a fatwa is imposed. then when such serious blows like deviation from the Quran takes place, then why are fatwas not issued?
Islam has always tried to be very exclusive. The political scenario in which it originated and developed is the reason for it. It has definitely absorbed from other beliefs and practices but it has always tried to retain a certain degree of rigidity. Even in 21st century, there comes a fatwa that only two Muslims can marry each other. This exclusivity also clashes with modernist forces, most important of which is that of secularism. In an India where the a-political, common people would have agreed for a temple and mosque to co-exist on the disputed Ayodhya site, such discrimination is farce and intolerable. People want to rise above their personal faiths and accept and respect other faiths. This exclusivity will retard this growth. Exclusivity and Rigidity are also breeding grounds for the deadly germs of stereotyping 'the other'. Intermingling of cultures is not only inevitable but also necessary for their survival. Rigid cultures cannot survive and if they do, they decay the society, the economy and ofcourse, politics.

Another point in the case is that these mosques are more of historical monuments. They are of academic interests for many. So they are not just the religious domains. Thus, the personal beliefs of people should not be overriding. Like other historical monuments with mosques, these mosques should also be closed only on Fridays. Monuments are pride of the nation, not exclusive properties of any individual or community.

In the end, i shall conclude by saying that I don't know how far-reaching and equality will be the economic development in Mayawati's Lucknow but weeding out this irrationality and inequality will definitely be one of the real developments.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Save the girl child...kill dowry

“Hamari existence se itni problem hai toh, bandhu yeh batao ki tum kaha se aaye?”

This was written on one of the boards in the college corridor and everytime i passed through, this struck me. I remember the “save the girl child” march hosted by our school. We were supposed to parade on the road holding placards and shouting slogans. Kalpana chawla and Indira Gandhi appeared on every third placard. This was followed by an essay writing competition. The similarity here and there was that in both cases, we focussed on why the girl child should be saved. The question of ‘why they are killed’ remained unasked and hence, unanswered.

However much illiterate a person might be, he/she knows that women have been granted with the gifting of life. So if we kill women then climatic change and natural calamities won’t be needed to wipe off our race. So raising the issue of ‘their existence for ours’ is illogical. Next we talk about the potentials of a woman. We talk about equality of sexes and give examples of successful women. So their potential is not the issue. How they become successful and who ultimately reaps the benefits is the issue.

Women are raised to be ‘parayadhan’. She is considered to be ‘someone’s amaanat(property)’. Marriage is considered to be the ‘biggest day in her life’. Throughout her upbringing, she is ‘prepared’ for the journey to the ultimate destination- her husband’s place. The playing with dolls serves as the first institute of this concept of burden. The play revolved around the institution of marriage. While in the rural framework, this is more direct as in the gudda-guddi khel where ultimately the gudda and guddi gets married, in the urban space, Barbies teach them the ‘ideal’ way for a woman. Once the ideology is set, the practical part comes. They are encouraged to learn house-hold work and taught how to walk and talk. They and everyone is mentally prepared to accept the ‘fact’ that one day she has to go. So the moment a girl turns 24, the whole world starts worrying about her. It is as if she has some kind of validity! But this is just the beginning. The ‘burden’ has to be set off through a grand ceremony. For the transaction, the ‘product’ draped in a saree, walks in slowly, with trembling hands under a tray of food. Then from ‘kahan tak padhi ho’ to ‘kuch gaake sunao’, all the features of the ‘product’ is clearly mentioned. Then comes the rate at which the burden has to be set off. In legal terms, this is called dowry but personally, this is referred to as ‘riwaaj(z)’. It consists of petty gifts like some dozen silk sarees, one Honda city, bed, TV, AC, and maybe a ‘negligible’ amount of money. They say ‘Shaadi toh janmo-janmo ka rishta hai’ and there is no doubt about this. People take loans to marry off their daughters. The sum is so huge that it takes ages to repay it! So the bride, when she finally goes, drags along the family’s treasury. After all, Marriages are a way to show how much you ‘love’ your daughter. Marriage is not just the union of the boy and the girl but of two families. This is true and so the bond has to be renewed every now and then via precious gifts. So no doubt that brides are considered to be ‘Ghar ki Lakshmi’! And then there is the belief among the bride’s family that ‘beti ke ghar ka paani bhi nai peena chahiye’, even though beti ke ghar ka pani comes from her family’s pockets! And how much of a home is her husband’s place for a woman is another issue.

So the society has made women the burden for her parents. She is a huge financial constraint for them. First her education and then her marriage. Parents prefer investing more for their son’s education because they assume that the money will come back to them. Their son will not go anywhere. He will take care of his parents. But the daughter has to leave. And women have the ‘option’ of being a house-wife. Even if a woman becomes something, the benefits will be reaped by her husband and in-laws. The parents who raised her, did so much for her will get nothing in return. Infact her marriage will only worsen their financial condition. It is easy to say that it is the duty of the parents to raise the parayadhan only if you are financially strong. But what about a poor farmer who cannot even afford three meals a day? So if you save the girl child, then who will save her family later? So the issue is not to save the girl child but to kill such traditions.
The very basic assumption is that the girl has to go to her husband’s place. This is seen as a ‘universal fact’. But no one knows who set this as a fact and why. Why it is that only a woman should leave her parents and go. Why is she so portable...Doesn’t she have any attachments? This is also ironical because women are said to be ‘emotional fools’. There are parents who only have daughters or who have sons who are as good as daughters (leaving their parents). So if they all go, then who will take care of the parents? Calling them up every night is not the solution to anything. There is a concept of gharjamai but it is not widespread. The reason is that it is not respectable as this concept alters the ‘natural’ set of orders. Who sets these orders is again a question. Combining both the families is another feasible solution if the invisible hands of the society are ignored. Let ‘Marriage is the union of two families’ be literal. A part of the income of the girl can be given to her parents even after her marriage. This can help them economically. This is the least that she can do to pay some kind of gratitude to them. The marriage should not be a big affair. We have to realise that marriages are arranged in heaven, not done there! Where is the need to make it such a lavish and unforgettable (the loans) affair? And why is that only the bride’s side has to arrange everything? Pinky weds bunty and Bunty weds Pinky. So both should pay. Similarly, the rivaaj(z)s of petty gifts also has to change. But all this can happen only if we stop treating women as ‘goods to be delivered’. The society will change...but only if u do! Don’t save the girl child, kill the murderers- kill dowry!