The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women find voice on Ayodhya

Lucknow, July 5: For a 66-year-old woman, Begum Safia Iqtedar Ali is hardly a part of the flock. For one, she does not shroud herself in a burqa. For another, she dares to speak her mind. And for a third, she is set to ventilate her views on Ayodhya tomorrow.

Safia, a social activist, is among the five women on the All India Muslim Personal Law Board executive who will attend the crucial meeting to discuss the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s Ayodhya initiative. This is the first time women will participate in such a discussion.

The widow of an engineer who runs schools and charitable trusts, Safia wants the board to “act positively” on the proposals as it could ease the pressure on her tribe.

“You see, women are the worst victims of communal violence. Look at Gujarat, the carnage saw killings and sexual assault of many young girls. As widows, they suffer all their lives.”

Safia has not seen the seer’s proposals but is convinced times have changed enough to make a “new beginning”. But she insists the board should examine whether the proposals suit the interests of the Muslim community or compromise on its religious beliefs.

Along with Rukhsana Lari, Begum Dr Ishtiaque Qureshi and two others, Safia will be in a minority but their presence underlines a change creeping into Muslim society: how women are gradually making their way into male bastions.

In the 201-member Muslim board, there are now 25 women. On its 51-member executive, there are five.

The women’s lobby, while acting as a pressure group to streamline inter-community relations, is also trying to enforce “reforms from within” in matters like instant divorce and lack of maintenance.

Tomorrow’s executive has another important agenda — a report on intra-community reforms called Islah-e-Maishra. But Safia is convinced the executive will get bogged down in the Ayodhya controversy.

Apart from the presence of women, there are other signs of change in the board executive as well. Lucknow’s naib imam Khalid Rasheed is barely 25 but he has found a place in the apex decision-making body.

Khalid is candid while speaking on Ayodhya. “The younger generation is convinced that the ghost of Ayodhya has to be buried. Why should we continue to suffer' I think the nation as such would gain immensely if the two communities come together.”

He says there are several board members who think on similar lines. But the media is bent on perpetuating a stereotyped image of Muslims, oblivious of the changes coming in.

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