Fatwas and Fan

Revolutions do not explode all at once. When Bastille fell on 14 July 1789, the French Revolution was announced to the world, but it started much before and ended several years later. The Gender Revolution in India triggered by the events of 16/12 continues, with tides flowing and ebbing. Whenever it flags, there is some helpful misogynist who rekindles the flames.

The Grand Mufti of Srinagar has again come to the rescue of women's revolution. The idea that a group of three young women playing western music can breach the solid walls of Islam would be laughable, had it not been utterly predictable. What was precisely haraam when FAN (Farah, Anneqa and Noma) performed their songs? It was because they performed their music before "strangers" and not just their families which is haraam to the religion. Does this apply only to girls who live within the Grand Mufti's domain? Has he objected before to other women performing at music festivals or in qawwali festivals in Kashmir or elsewhere across the Islamic community? Someone else said that it was the type of musicóWesternówhich was the issue. Had they been playing Indian music all would have been well. One way or another, the girls had to be stopped.

It is not the fatwa which stopped them but the threat of violence sanctioned by the fatwa, which is the threat. Here again, Omar Abdullah has to be congratulated to reacting to the threats to the band in the best way possible. He did not carefully weigh the various vote banks he could be offending or pleasing. He spoke like a true, modern leader. Indeed, in all the ruckus since 16/12, his was the first honest modern response. The rest were too frightened to say what they should have said.

As the reactions of RSS and Asaram Bapu to 16/12 showed, the religious elderly feel threatened by women behaving in the way they wish to. Women asserting their individuality is against the orthodoxies of Islam and Hinduism. The political system is too frightened to challenge religion. One excuse is secularism which now means abject surrender to all orthodoxies, no matter how obscurantist. There is also the small matter of vote banks which unites all parties in their fear of offending these reactionary forces.

Christianity has also been challenged by these new forces of the gender revolution. But it has coped with a debate and an attempt at reform of itself. Anglican Churches have debated the question of ordaining women Bishops, though, as yet, there has been no consensus. Gay clergy are now admitted. Soon, we may have gay marriages in a Church though the struggle continues. In the Catholic Church, there is a tradition of Papal Encyclicals periodically raising issues for debate across the community of the faithful. On issues of divorce, abortion, domestic violence, marital rape, the debate has to be carried on among the devout believers as much as among the sceptical citizenry.

India has been shying away from a discussion on reforming religion. In the fifties, thanks to Nehru, scepticism was encouraged. The Left parties were in the forefront of raising questions about the orthodoxies of Hinduism, which they considered to be an obstacle to the modernisation of India. There were critiques of the Ramayana, of the Bhagavad Gita, of the Upanishads from a philosophical perspective. India could not have a modern, liberal Constitution and a misogynistic obscurantist religion. Indira Gandhi stopped all that. The Left was bribed with academic patronage and everyone started celebrating all religions uncritically. Atheism was out, 'secular' saints like Kabir were the fashion. This apologetic stance met its Waterloo at Babri Masjid. BJP was the major beneficiary of Indira Gandhi's apologetic secularism.

We have to resume the battle against religious orthodoxies wherever they infringe human rights. They invariably oppress women. If Indian women are going to be safe and lead fruitful lives, we have to begin a wide ranging discussion of how religion can be reformed. At the very least, we have to have the Omar Abdullah response that such threats ought to be dismissed and countered with a swift and strong force. The 16/12 Revolution must continue till women feel at home in India.

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