Sunday, July 10, 2005

Justice for Women, Indian and Pakistani Style

I never much enjoyed Salman Rushdie's novels. Too post-moden to appeal to my tastes. But here he writes an incisive article about the treatment of women in the tribal regions in India and Pakistan. And it is a must read.

The story of Mukhtar Mai is already becoming well known in the west. Here is a tale about her Indian counterpart.
Now comes even worse news. Whatever Pakistan can do, India, it seems, can trump. The so-called Imrana case, in which a Muslim woman from a village in northern India says she was raped by her father-in-law, has brought forth a ruling from the powerful Islamist seminary Darul-Uloom ordering her to leave her husband because as a result of the rape she has become "haram" (unclean) for him. "It does not matter," a Deobandi cleric has stated, "if it was consensual or forced."

Darul-Uloom, in the village of Deoband 90 miles north of Delhi, is the birthplace of the ultra-conservative Deobandi cult, in whose madrassas the Taliban were trained. It teaches the most fundamentalist, narrow, puritan, rigid, oppressive version of Islam that exists anywhere in the world today. In one fatwa it suggested that Jews were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Not only the Taliban but also the assassins of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were followers of Deobandi teachings.

Darul-Uloom's rigid interpretations of Shariah law are notorious, and immensely influential - so much so that the victim, Imrana, a woman under unimaginable pressure, has said she will abide by the seminary's decision in spite of the widespread outcry in India against it. An innocent woman, she will leave her husband because of his father's crime.

Why does a mere seminary have the power to issue such judgments? The answer lies in the strange anomaly that is the Muslim personal law system - a parallel legal system for Indian Muslims, which leaves women like Imrana at the mercy of the mullahs. Such is the historical confusion on this vexed subject that anyone who suggests that a democratic country should have a single, unified legal system is accused of being anti-Muslim and in favor of the hardline Hindu nationalists.
The truth is, thank God, I can't even imagine living in a land where the rulings of these tribal judges is accepted as justice. It puts into a truer perspective the Supreme Court drama we are about to engage in in the next few months. This other world, in contrast, is Kafkaesque. Justice punishing the victim for the crime in a land where the victim has no power at all, except the power to cower inside and not to engage with the world. And in this case, in doing just that, her father-in-law violated her even there.

One wonders what the son of such a man thinks of his father.

And it's really disheartening that even in *Democratic* India, people are too intimidated to challenge the rulings from these madrassas.

As they say, read the whole thing.

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