New Delhi, December 31 (newsin.asia): Continuing his effort to liberate Indian Muslim women from oppressive religious laws, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday, that from now on, Muslim women need not be accompanied by a male escort when they go for the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
But critics say that this is only an application of a rule already set by the Saudi Arabian government and is being followed by other countries.
Modi said in the Man ki Baat program broadcast by All India Radio: “It had come to our notice that if a Muslim woman wants to go on Haj, she must have a ‘Mehram’ or a male guardian, otherwise she cannot travel. It is discriminatory. We have changed this rule and this year around 1300 women applied to go without a male guardian.”
He went on to ask: “Why this discrimination?”
“And when I went into the depth of the matter, I was surprised to find that even after 70 years of our independence, we were the ones who had imposed these restrictions. For decades, injustice was being rendered to Muslim women but there was no discussion on it.”
“Usually there is a lottery system for selection of Haj pilgrims but I would like that single women pilgrims should be excluded from this lottery system and they should be given a chance as a special category,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Indian parliament’s Lower House passed a bill to outlaw “Triple Talaq” which allows a man to divorce his wife by uttering “talaq” thrice. The punishment for divorcing women this way is three year’ in jail. It will also be non-bailable offence.
However the announcement regarding the Haj pilgrimage is not a new thing. In October 2017, it was announced that possibly from 2018, Indian women over the age of 45 and travelling in groups of four will be able to go for the annual pilgrimage, without a male guardian.
Writing in Dawn , Rafia Zakaria says that the website of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia is quite clear that in order to apply for a Haj visa, women who are under 45 years of age, must travel with a “mehram”, or a male guardian, and possess papers that provide proof of the relationship. Women who are over 45 years of age may travel without a mehram and with an organized group, provided they possess a no-objection certificate from their male guardian.
“These rules, easily accessed by anyone in possession of an internet connection, seem to not be available to the Haj Review Committee across the border in India. It is perhaps just for this reason that a hue and cry was raised last week when the committee announced that Indian-Muslim women above the age of 45 would be ‘permitted’ to undertake the Haj pilgrimage without a male guardian,” Zakaria writes.
“Without ever mentioning the fact that such an allowance is already permitted to any Muslim woman anywhere who is over 45 years of age and travelling as part of a group, Indian media outlets presented the decision as a giant progressive leap!”
“India, and particularly the Indian Muslims, who are part of the government-appointed Haj committee, postured and pretended that they had devised the freedom all by themselves. The allusion was that India, under Modi, would be the vanguard for Muslim women’s rights. That the rights had long been granted and used and available was a detail that concerned no one at all!”
There is much, of course, to say about the rule concerning guardianship and the Saudi interpretation of it that leaves Muslim women subject to the whims and permissions of guardians even when it comes to fulfilling their religious duties, Zakaria adds.
Triple Talaq Issue
“It is not the first time in recent months that this has happened. In late August, India’s Supreme Court banned the oral pronouncements of talaq as constituting a valid Muslim divorce. In that case as well, the general posture by the Indian media was that such a form of divorce was otherwise permissible. This is incorrect,” Zakaria points out.
“Many Muslim jurists and several Muslim countries do not permit oral pronouncements of talaq as constituting a legal divorce. Given that reality, it was misleading to insist, as Prime Minister Modi did, that the Indian Supreme Court had come out in favor of ‘justice for Muslim women’, alluding all the while that such justice would not be possible were it not for court intervention. The fact that oral talaq is severely discouraged and even banned in some Muslim countries was set aside. In its stead, the idea that Muslim women would be left to suffer if it were not for the rescue provided by the Indian state was pushed forward,” Zaharia said.
Muslim Women Are Pawns in Communal Politics
Muslim women, who are amongst the poorest in all of India, have become a convenient pawn in the machinations of the Modi administration, a gloss that covers up the evisceration of minority rights in India and the institutionalization of Hindu militant and anti-dissent policies at every level, Zakaria says.
“A section of the Indian press, always nationalistic, has now turned rabidly so, eager to insert propaganda that will please the country’s increasingly militant and Islamophobic masses instead. Picking on Muslim women, making an eager pretense of providing them with ‘rights’, even while Muslims as a whole are disenfranchised, treated as pariahs and left outside the ambit of economic uplift programmes, is a catty technique that checks all the boxes.”
“Much like the colonial overlords of yore, the current administration has selected the strategy of ‘saving Muslim women’ even as it victimizes Muslims as a whole. That they may not need the kind of saving on offer is not something that seems to have occurred to them,” Zakaria points out.
“If the administration of Prime Minister Modi is truly interested in being the champion of Muslim women, it could consider providing them quotas in Indian institutions of higher learning and in employment, such that they can consider themselves equal to their more favoured non-Muslim brothers and sisters. Some freedoms have less to do with faith and more with how the faithful are treated,” she asserts.