Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, And The State In India [1° ed.] 0367009382, 9780367009380

This volume challenges the assumption that Muslims in India constitute a homogeneous community. Focusing specifically on

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Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, And The State In India [1° ed.]
 0367009382, 9780367009380

Table of contents :
Introduction: Contextualising Gender and Identity in Contemporary India
Reading and Writing about Muslim Women in British India
Gender and the Politics of Space: The Movement for Women's Reform 1857-1900
Defining Women through Legislation
Minority Identity, State Policy and Political Process
Identity Politics, Secularism and Women: A South Asian Perspective
The Constitution and Muslim Personal Law
Between Community and State: The Question of Women's Rights and Personal Laws
Education, Money and the Role of Women in Maintaining Minority Identity
Preserving Identity: A Case Study of Palitpur
Communal Property/Sexual Property: On Representations of Muslim Women in a Hindu Nationalist Discourse
Muslim Socials and the Female Protagonist: Seeing a Dominant Discourse at Work
Urdu, Awadh and the Tawaif: the Islamicate Roots of Hindi Cinema
Notes on Contributors

Citation preview

Forging Identities Gender, Communities and the State in India

Edited by


First published 1994 by Westview Press Published 2018 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © 1994 This edition, Kali for Women Copyright © 1994 For individual papers with the authors All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data available upon request ISBN 13: 978-0-367-00938-0 (hbk)

Contents Introduction: Contextualising Gender and Identity in Contemporary India Zoya Hasan Reading and Writing about Muslim Women in British India Barbara D. Metcalf



Gender and the Politics of Space: The Movement for Women's Reform 1857-1900 Faisal F. Devji


Defining Women through Legislation Shahida Lateef


Minority Identity, State Policy and Political Process Zoya Hasan


Identity Politics, Secularism and Women: A South Asian Perspective Amrita Chhachhi


The Constitution and Muslim Personal Law Kirti Singh


Between Community and State: The Question of Women's Rights and Personal Laws Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay


Education, Money and the Role of Women in Maintaining Minority Identity Elizabeth A. Mann


Preserving Identity: A Case Study of Palitpur Huma Ahmed-Ghosh




Communal Property/Sexual Property: On Representations of Muslim Women in a Hindu Nationalist Discourse Paola Bacchetta

Muslim Socials and the Female Protagonist: Seeing a Dominant Discourse at Work Fareed Kazmi

Urdu, Awadh and the Tawaij: the Islamicate Roots of Hindi Cinema



Mukul Kesavan


Notes on Contributors




Introduction: Contextualising Gender and Identity in Contemporary India Zoya Hasan Recent writings on India have focussed on the interplay of politics and religion, largely because the country's current experience has been punctuated by inter-community conflicts, the escalation of religio-revivalism, and a heightening of communal consciousness. The demolition of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 as well as the widespread communal violence that followed highlighted the potential of using religious symbols to forge communal solidarities. At the same time, it brought to light the connection between Hinduism and the Indian nation, on the one hand, and between the minorities and the State, on the other. The intensification of communalism culminating in the happenings at Ayodhya, raises further questions about the role of the State and government in coping with contentious religious issues, the future of secular values and institutions, and the place of minorities within the parameters laid down by India's Constitution. The close interaction of politics and religion in India today is not unique, it parallels similar trends in many different parts of the world. The past decade has witnessed a far reaching decline in the commitment to secularism, to equal opportunities for all, and to social welfare benefits for the underprivileged and disadvantaged. These values formed part of a broad package-secularism, democracy, social justice-that facilitated modernisation in the second half of the twentieth century in India and many other parts of the world. These values and concerns, embodied in the post-colonial agenda of social transformation, have almost everywhere suffered a reversal. Contemporary politics is characterised by a preoccupation with community identities, religious traditions, cultural practices and chauvinist ideologies and move-

viii Forging Identities ments that divide people into Hindus and Muslims, natural inhabitants and foreigners, infiltrators and refugees, and so on. 1 I

Associated with the renewed growth of communal politics and the sharpening of religious identities is the noticeable subordination of both gender and class loyalties. Most notably, the politics of religious self-assertion, claiming to speak in the name of majority and minority rights, seeks to negate and suppress the divergent interests and rights of individuals and social collectivities. There is little reason to doubt that the short and long term impact of these developments is profoundly divisive. What is its effect on women? What are the conditions under which women begin to define themselves primarily on the basis of a religious identity? Why have communal organisations succeeded in mobilising women? Do communal and fundamentalist organisations create a sense of crisis to mobilise women around loyalty to the community and religious symbols? What is the significance of minority identity for other social solidarities and the possibility of mobilising women on gender issues? The nature of women's relationship to religious identity and various communal projects is complex. They may figure as important signifiers of differences between groups; community identities are often defined through the conduct of women, which is subject to the customary strictures of tradition. 2 On other occasions, women become the agents of various communal projects. Part of the reason why this is so is because of a narrow culturalism which emphasises the activities of women in the religious, communitarian domain as a form of empowerment that supposedly transgresses patriarchies. 3 These roles cannot be understood without recognising the link between gender relations and the State (which has a major role to play at different levels of society), the ways in which it accords to women an unequal status in relation to men, and the contradictory notions of equality and citizenship posited by the State and by communal and fundamentalist forces. Despite a spurt in feminist/ gender literature, there are only a few studies which explain the link between gender and religious community or analyse the integration of women into commu-

Contextualising Gender and Identity


nitarian processes.4 Little is known about contradictions in the political agenda of communal projects, or the implication and position of women in relation to such projects. Essays in this volume reflect on some of these issues. They are confined to the Muslim minority, largely in north India, and deal mainly with middle and lower middle classes in urban areas. They explore, perhaps for the first time, the inter-relationship of gender, communities and patriarchal practices in relation to Muslim women, and the relationship of these processes with history, state, religion, law and culture. Much of the scholarly literature on politicisation of religion, minorities and Muslims has not explored many of these questions. This is largely because Muslims are seen asa monolithic community with an irreducible interest in self-identity deriving from the community's commitment to an absolute Islam. This monolithic character is supposed to shape their world view and the community's fundamental religious commitments, overriding all others; most crucially, this committment stands in the way of legal reform. This tendency towards essentialismoversimplifies a complex and highly diverse terrain and has only helped to produce a static understanding of tradition without coming to terms with social diversities, cultural pluralism, the specificities of historical context and the radical negotiability of the concept of identity.s The essays in this volume offer a more contextualised and nuanced understanding of the complex ways in which identity is constructed, the manner in which gender and community intersect and cross-cut each other, and the ways in which these two elements interact with State policy. Also examined is the influence of the State on the wider context in which power structures operate and the extent to which state policy is changed in response to popular and communal pressures. Several papers look at the working of religious ideology, which functions at both the local and govemmentallevels. A dominant theme that emerges in the volume is that religious ideology and leadership do more than legitimise patriarchal structures, they playa vital role in the socialisation and creation of Muslim identity, so that community and state legitimise and reproduce each other. Barbara Metcalf's paper reviews reformist movements during the colonial period and highlights the differences in relation to


Forging Identities

class and gender in the development of Muslim reformist ideas and movements. Faisal Devji traces the historical meaning and relationship of revivalism and conceives revivalism not as a sharif reaction to colonialism, but as a shift associated with the consolidation of the north Indian Shurafa as a polity, distinguishing itself against both aristocrat and plebe on the basis of "true" Islam. Shahida Lateef describes the contending pressures of government, communitY-l?ased political groups and women's organisations on the issue of legislative changes pertaining to women's rights. Elizabeth Mann discusses the symbolic and practical value of Muslim women in relation to the social and religious identity of Muslims living in Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh) as a means of distinguishing religious communities from each other, and to press for concessions from the government. I focus on the response of the Indian State to the conflict between reform and community pressures in the post-Independence period. I have tried to highlight the mutual.complementarity of the State and religious leadership in reinforcing community identity, as also in subordinating women. Paola Bacchetta explores the representations of Muslim women in the Hindu nationalist discourse of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the characteristics which are constructed and assigned to them. Her contribution underscores the critical functionality of women in the anti-Muslim propaganda of the RSS. Amrita Chhachhi addresses the relationship between state structures, identity, and gender in South Asia. She delineates the ideology of nationalism and the establishment of legal structures which maintained separate identities for Hindus and Muslims. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh examines the dual aspirations of Muslim women in strengthening community consciousness as well as emulating higher caste Hindu customs as a means of achieving higher status in the wider social system in Palitpur (Uttar Pradesh). Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay ana1y~ the lawtradition-scripture nexus in the process of codification and formulation of personal laws in the colonial period, the implications for changes in social and gender relations for the constitution of authentic cultural tradition. Her case studies, based on field work in West Bengal, reveal the way in which these identity assertions subordinate women's material interests. Kirti Singh's paper, while dealing with the same subject, looks critically at the relationship

Contextualising Gender and Identity


between personal laws and the Constitution, and the guarantees made to all Indians as citizens. Fareed Kazmi analyses representations of Muslim women in eight of the most popular films in the genre of Muslim Socials in the last three decades, while Mukui Kesavan examines the relationship bet~een Hindi cinema and Islamicate culture and argues that Urdu, Awadh and the tawai! have together been instrumental in shaping Hindi cinema as a whole and not just the Muslim component of it. II

Most accounts of Muslim women in India focus on their role and legal status within the framework of Islamic doctrine and practices. Muslims in general, and women in particular, are treated as separate from the rest of society.6 This approach is a logical sequel to the widely-held assumption that India's Muslims constitute a homogeneous community and are unified by the common symbols of Islam. TheMuslim League's successful mobilisation campaigns around these lines reinforce this view. Yet, the means through which the League's message was communicated and the precise nature of its appeal have yet to be determined. Although newly published studies of movements in BengaJ, Punjab and Sind have questioned Jinnah's assertion that the Indian Muslims constituted a "nation" / the myth of a structured and homogenised Muslim community remains firmly ensconced in much of South Asian social science literature. Contributions to a volume edited by Imtiaz Ahmad some years ago not only challenged the view that Muslims adhered to the basic tenets of Islam embodied in the Shariat, they argued that the ground realities did not always correspond to formal legal codes and principles.8 They brought to light the rich diverSity in family structures and, importantly enough, the correspondence in family norms across communities. This can be seen from a study of Dharwar, Karnataka, which concluded that "Muslim family practices are quite similar to those of Hindus in everyday life"/ and further, that '~this finding would seem to confirm the consensus of available literature when it suggests that family patterns are common among all elements of society in India, given similar education and other social attributes" 10 Ahmad


Forging Identities

and his contributors also questioned the notion of and theories on the "backwardness" of Muslim women pointing out that their position was neither the cause nor the consequence of either conforming to a set of legal codes or of a specific religious ethos. The embedding of the position of Muslim women in religious texts and scriptures does not help to illuminate their condition;l1 nor does it help to compare their position with Muslim societies elsewhere. The critical issue is not the discrepancy between formal theory and social practice but the centrality of religious identity in minority politics, the articulation of a traditional community discourse which keeps women bound to the traditions of religious communities, and the role of the State in reinforcing such a discourse. Whatever view one may take, the misplaced emphasis on community-based identity has serious implications on how women of different classes and regions negotiate the demands of secular and minority politics. In order to understand this wider process, it is crucial to locate the issue within the framework of social and political developments in India, the complex and changing interplay of majority-minority relations, and its impact on the position of Muslim women. III

One of the striking features of the contemporary scene is the overall growth of religiOUS revivalism and fundamentalism both in India and elsewhere. Many of the movements flowing from this phenomenon impinge not just on areas of marriage, divorce, inheritance, reproductive rights an