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Hoisting flag against fatwas, women march - Mumbai streets resonate to daring slogans of protest thrown at clerics

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By CHANDRIMA S. BHATTACHARYA in Mumbai
  • Published 24.07.05
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Mumbai, July 24: Some of the women do not even enjoy the right to have tea at a restaurant.

The streets of Bhendi Bazaar, the old Muslim district in south Mumbai weary with aged buildings, heavy traffic, unregulated, crowded shops and the reputation of being home to the most conservative opinion in the community, saw a startling sight yesterday.

About a hundred women, many of them wearing burqas, came marching down, carrying roughly-made cut-outs of maulanas with their faces crossed out. They did not mince words.

Shaadi hamari, jashn hamara, aap ke baap ka kya jaata hai (it’s our marriage, our celebration, what business is it of yours)?” the women shouted before the bewildered faces that had gathered on both sides of the streets.

This was the first time the community’s religious heads in the city were being asked such a question openly, from the streets, by women.

The demonstration was against the fatwas issued by maulanas, especially against the community’s women.

“In Cheetah Camp (a new Muslim settlement on the Central Line), women under four mosques that are under maulanas from the conservative Tablighi Jamaat are not even allowed to have tea at restaurants,” said Sandhya Gokhale of the Forum Against Oppression of Women, one of the women’s groups that organised the march.

“But we took one group of women out to tea in a restaurant. Their excitement was amazing.”

Women are also banned from watching television and wearing certain clothes. There is a fatwa against playing music during marriages.

The demonstration was to “express our discontent and anger with extra-judicial forces like the shariat jamaats, as in the recent Imrana case in Muzaffarnagar, and the increase in the number of anti-women fatwas issued by local panchayats and self-styled religious leaders,” said the press release from the women’s groups. Imrana’s marriage was annulled by a fatwa after she was allegedly raped by her father-in-law at her home in Uttar Pradesh.

The protesters’ slogans articulated what they have to go through. The not-so-polite reference to the father figure (baap) was a refrain in most of the slogans.

TV hamari, cable hamara (the TV is ours, the cable ours), aap ke baap ka kya jaata hai?” they asked. “Shareer hamara, kapde hamare (It’s our body, our clothes), aap ke baap ka kya jaata hai?”

The onlookers ? shopkeepers and vendors, passers-by, men and women craning their necks from windows ?looked stunned, often asking what the noise was about. Some fumbled with the Urdu pamphlets distributed generously. But the women didn’t care.

Haldi hamari, mehndi hamari, aap ke baap ka kya jaata hai?” they demanded, grinning at each other conspiratorially.

“The maulanas are also against drinking. In Cheetah Camp, three men were forced to divorce their wives because the men got drunk on occasion, not because they were alcoholics,” said Gokhale.

Divorce is often more damaging to the women, especially in the less privileged sections of society.

In Cheetah Camp, people who indulge in festivities are issued no nikaahnama, the legal proof of marriage. They are even told there will be no burial after death. In Mumbra, Vikroli, women are asked not to go in for sterilisation.

“Such rigidity is more dominant in the newer Muslim areas in the city like Cheetah Camp, Mumbra, Jogeshwari and Malwani,” said Sameera Khan of Pukar, another NGO that organised the event with the Forum, Awaaz-e-Niswaan, India Centre For Human Rights and Akshara.

The demonstrators were mostly from nearby Behrampada, Dongri and Nagpada areas, as the women from Cheetah Camp or Mumbra could not reach. Which was a pity, said one of the organisers.

But from Nagpada police station, where the march started, through Bhendi Bazaar to Azad maidan, the meeting ground where it ended, it had come a long way.