World Lens for Edition 50
Reality of Indian Muslim Women in the Frame of Minority
by Muhammad Faiq, M.A
India is the country where Muslim population is the second biggest in the world after Indonesia. According to report from the Pew Research Center (April 2015), Islam is the fastest growth religion compared to other religions in Indonesia. It is predicted that in 2050, population of Indian Muslims will be the biggest in the world of which is up to 310 million people, beyond the Muslim population in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Pakistan is at the second rank. This fact reveals issue of Islamophobia in India. The current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi who is a Hindu, is very strict toward Muslims. He launches a campaign to ban animal slaughter, it is certainly addressed to Muslim, whose activity in cow slaughtering is common.
With number of Muslim reaches 14% (more than 180 million) from total population, the quantity of Muslims in India is a lot. The comparison between men and women is 1000 to 900. Most of them are scattered in Northern and Southern part. But how is the condition of women Muslim in India? To answer this question, I made an interview with my lecturer, Aisya Mahmood Farooqui. She said, the condition of Muslim women in India is vary, between one state to another, it is quite different. Furthermore, between one family to another family has also a different point of view relating to women issue.
My lecturer is an open minded and progressive woman. She earned her PhD degree from Mc Gill University and doesn’t wear hijab. So, it’s clear that educational and family background are influential part in her life. We can map out the condition of Indian Muslim women living in big cities (urban) and in villages (rural). What I have seen in Hyderabad, South India, Muslim women in big cities are well-educated. They are also economically more prosperous than most Hindu women. Don’t be surprised, Hindu women of middle-low class here are used to working as unskilled laborers. We can imagine what they do, such as digging holes for cable installation alongside the street which is very common to see.
Whereas it is rare to find the Indian Muslim women work outside home. Some of them are teachers or lecturers. But generally, they are housewives. Buying groceries are carried out by their husbands. Aisya Farooqui says, this is not because of family’s restriction, but there is still a great fear for women working outside home until late. It is reasonable to say so since rape problems are happening in India, where Delhi has the highest rape criminal rate. Don’t be surprised to see mosques in India do not provide praying rooms for women, because it is very impossible to see women do their activities outdoors. Even if they have to do so, usually their family allow them to work not until late in the evening.
On the contrary, the condition of Muslim women in rural areas is worse, especially in North India. Their economic condition is also worse compared to Hindu and other minority religious groups like Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. The percentage of education implementation is also very low, even at the lowest rate, as reported by the Ministry of Human Resources Development of India, the literacy number of Muslims is 59%, followed by Christians (80%), Sikhs (69%), Buddhists (72%), and Zoroastrians (97%),
Certainly, there are many supporting factors, the economy is the number one. This becomes a serious problem of India of where the population — including Muslim — are still under poverty line. The second factor is access to education in the villages is not as good as in the big cities. Schools’ location is still unreachable, they also lack in facilities and infrastructures. Third, there is still this saying that women do not have to get a higher degree in education, they must help their parents at home instead. Fourth, the under-age marriage is still very common which interrupts the education process.
A friend of mine told me his story. He comes from Sudan and was pursuing his Master Degree in Osmania University Hyderabad. He was going to marry a Muslim woman who finished her school only until elementary school. The show was going to begin, he just had to wait the bride coming when suddenly the marriage was cancelled because her parents asked him to pay a dowry which costs a lot of money. The reason why he would want to marry a girl with a poor education level is because he thinks such woman would be obedient to her husband. This is one of the examples which prove that Muslim women in India are still poorly-educated.
About Muslim marriage tradition in India, it is likely similar with Hindu’s. It is advisable for a soon-to-be husband to present a dowry to his soon-to-be wife, but it is also preferable for a future wife to deliver the package gifts (to tie up the knots) according to the future husband’s request, which is a great amount. The future wife’s parents are also willing to provide this gift so that their daughter can marry him. On a lecture session relating to this matter, Aisha Farooqui explained that gift could also be a flat with its equipment.
This is a complicated problem because it has been a continuous tradition. The latest news published on Times of India (June 2015), in the State of Uttar Pradesh, Khanpur Village, a woman was burned alive and finally died because she couldn’t afford her future husband request to give him the dowry. But isn’t there any regulation which protects the women’s rights in their household life?
The Dissolution of Marriage Act (1939) states the women’s rights to file a divorce prosecution for several causes, such as the negligence of their husband to feed them or support their living for two consecutive years, the act of violence committed by their husband, and so on. Later on, the Special Marriage Act (1954) became the legal basis for Indian citizen everywhere, regardless their religion, to pursuit the marriage. There are several requirements to be fulfilled prior to marriage; both of them must not be in a legal marriage bond with anyone, the minimum age for the groom is 21 years old, and that of the bride is 18 years old. If a permission from their parents is not granted, they still can proceed to the marriage by standing on this law. The last regulation is The Muslim Women Act; Protection of Rights on Divorce, 1986, which stipulates the women’s rights to receive the financial support from their husband while undergoing iddah process (the period a woman must observe after the death of her spouse or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man).
That is a glimpse of fact on Muslim women in India with all their problems. On one side, there is already a regulation which protects women’s rights for several cases. On the other hand, there are still other issues of which the regulations need to be ratified for the purpose of protecting the women’s rights. It is indeed complicated since the women’s issues in India are always associated with social level, caste, tradition, and so on. There are certainly NGOs willing to fight for their rights, and it is expected they can give their best contributions.  by Muhammad Faiq, M.A. in Islamic Studies, Osmania University Hyderabad, India.