Shaheen Bagh, a spectacular women-led protest gathering against the draconian and discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), has slowed down to a standstill since March 24. The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic forced the women to put a halt on this 101-day sit-in protest that not only managed to gather international attention but also shook the Indian state to its core. Its fame and unprecedented support soon inspired several protests across the country gaining popularity and international attention enormously. In its 70 years of independence, this is the first time India witnessed such revolutionary protests.
People from marginalized sections have pointed out the Islamophobic and exclusionary nature of the CAA-NRC-NPR. The gruesome humanitarian crisis brewing up from Assam, where NRC was implemented and detention centers made active, would send shivers down the spine of any conscious human being. In its desperate attempt to curb the voices of Muslims, who had begun to assert themselves unapologetically and fearlessly during the protests, the Indian state has been on a brutal spree of charging Muslim activists and scholars with punitive laws.
Why They Must!
The willingness to understand the dynamics of an unconditional feminist solidarity to an assertive Muslim such as Sharjeel Imam, must begin with the basic understanding of feminism. Feminism always strives towards making of an egalitarian society, where people of all sex, race, class, caste and ethnicity are treated equally and fairly.
Firstly, any feminist who understands this, will first and foremost be against the draconian and undemocratic CAA, NRC and NPR because of its exclusionary and communal nature.
Secondly, the fight is not only limited to protest against CAA, NRC and NPR, the fight is to eliminate the very idea of a majoritarian imagination of India in the shape of Hindu Rashtra. One must never forget that CAA, NRC, NPR are only three steps towards a larger goal of making majoritarian Hindu Rashtra. And Sharjeel Imam, being one of the faces of the larger movement against the making of a masculinist, patriarchal and exclusionary Hindu Rashtra, deserves our unconditional solidarity.
It is a well-known and widely discussed fact the Hindu Rashtra derives its supremacist majoritarian ideology from Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and there should be no doubt that Hindu Rashtra will push back women to domestic affairs and the personal will no more be political. The third Reich echoed with slogans like, “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (Parthasarathy); a slogan meant to push back women to the domestic domain and essentialise their role as mothers and care-givers. A simple Google search will tell you how German women were viewed and treated in Nazi Germany.
Sharjeel Imam, who is an assertive Muslim scholar, is a controversial name even among the liberal, communist and feminist circles. However, these progressive circles need to do away with their unnecessary anxieties, Sharjeel’s identity assertiveness and his difference of opinion with them, shouldn’t stop them from lending their unconditional solidarities to him. He has been in jail for more than 90 days now, if we are still not offering him our unconditional solidarity, the chances are rife and possibilities endless that sooner or later we might realise that we have already become collaborators to this fascist state which will keep incarcerating Muslim activists.
The second and a very crucial point that we need to discuss here is the draconian and despotic UAPA and sedition charges that Sharjeel Imam has been slapped with; UAPA and sedition charges are inherently meant to curb dissenting voices, such authoritative laws and bills must not have any place in a democracy. For the feminist movement, one has to understand that any such law can be used to curb our voices and vilify our struggles too. Feminist philosophy of law argues that legal structures in their very core approve and encourage masculinist norms, in case of Indian legal system, such laws are meant to vilify and victimize marginalized sections such as Muslims, Dalits, poor and women. Hence, such draconian laws and charges are to be fought against, otherwise they only strengthen the idea of a chauvinist and authoritative Hindu Rashtra.
Deconstructing the Myth around “Muslim men”
Projection of Muslim men as “fundamentalists” who lure Hindu, upper-caste women for conversion to Islam is another thing which we must carefully and urgently deconstruct. Charu Gupta, in her article, Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions, noted,
“Construct an image of the Muslim male as aggressive, and broadcast a series of stereotypes and repetitive motifs, creating a common “enemy” – the Other. The luring of Hindu women by Muslim men is stated to demonstrate the “lack of character” of the sexually charged, lustful Muslim men, violating the pure body of Hindu women.“
This myth of Muslim men as ‘fundamentalist jihadis’, created by the stakeholders of Hindutva forces, is so vividly incorporated in the minds of upper-caste, upper-class Hindus, that even the most progressive and the most feminist women belonging to such families tend to view assertive Muslim men on similar lines. In case of Sharjeel Imam, the mainstream Indian media (read: lapdogs) went on to denigrate him as an Islamic fundamentalist, and unfortunately, feminist individuals and organisations along with liberal circles bought this narrative and resented in furthering their support to Sharjeel Imam. To burst and deconstruct this myth of any Muslim man asserting his identity is an Islamic fundamentalist, one must go back to Franz Fanon,
“This sexual myth—the quest for white flesh—perpetuated by alienated psyches, must no longer be allowed to impede active understanding.” (Fanon)
If one is to borrow from Fanon’s argument of black men vis a vis white women, one can argue that to legitimize the voices of assertive Muslim men like Sharjeel Imam and to lend them our support in a larger movement against Hindu Rashtra, while recognizing with feminist politics, feminists will first need to dismantle their own stereotypes about Muslim men which in many ways aid the Hindutva agenda in targeting and illegally incarcerating Muslim men. To reiterate, the myth of assertive Muslims as fundamentalist religious beings propagated by Hindutva forces must not exist, if we are to fight against an authoritative entity such as the Hindu Rashtra.
Feminists should also understand that the oppression of assertive Muslims is (if not as rampant) similar to that of oppression of feminist voices in India. Both are the other, both are considered “fringe”, both are frowned at and most importantly, both are considered to be harming the “pious” Hindu-ideology of the Hindu Rashtra. Although, there is no denying that vilification and targeting of Muslims is much more than that of upper-caste women who identify with feminist politics.
Considering this, it becomes even more important to offer and garner solid and unconditional support to assertive Muslim scholars such as Sharjeel Imam, who are fighting against making of a Hindu Rashtra, which is a machoistic, masculinist idea of a nation that will have no place for any of the “other” groups (Muslims, Dalits, poor, women). Such parallels need to be drawn not to compare or hierarchize the oppression of various oppressed identities, but to construct a larger unified front against a bigger and powerful evil, i.e., the Hindu Rashtra. The politics of finding commonality and building solidarities between the two struggling sections of the society is crucial for a democratic and secular future of the country.
To conclude, feminists and progressive circles are in dire need of some introspection and intervention – which has to be done on an urgent basis – there should be no doubt that the current Machiavellian regime, largely controlled by jingoistic, chauvinistic, bloodthirsty, Hindutva hooligans, will not for once think before killing another Muslim voice. The farcical nature of statements taken out by various academics and liberals which focused on unsubstantiated and baseless disagreements with Sharjeel Imam’s politics also need to be revoked and fresh statements and a fresh movement from all feminist and progressive fronts needs commence, to stop this state-sponsored attack on Muslim voices like that of Sharjeel Imam.
If we fail in doing so, we are nothing more than privileged caste and class enablers – collaborators to the fascist state which is after Muslim blood. As someone who has been raised in a privileged household and as someone who associates with feminist politics, it becomes my responsibility to intervene when the machoistic, masculinist Indian state has illegally incarcerated Sharjeel Imam, it becomes a collective responsibility of feminist and progressive circles whose bodies are more privileged than that of a Muslim under the current regime, it should go without saying that we need to offer unequivocal solidarity to Sharjeel Imam, who is only one name from a much longer list of illegally incarcerated Muslims.
- Black skins, White Masks by Franz Fanon; Trans. Charles Lam Markmann
- “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions” by Charu Gupta
- Padmini Parthasarathy
Shambhavi Siddhi is pursuing her masters in french and francophone literature at JNU. Post-colonial feminist interventions and subaltern studies are her major area of interest. With a penchant for poetry and fiction writing, she is dedicated to smashing patriarchy and other systems of oppression, one write-up at a time. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured Image Source: India Today