Student Blogger - #dgemw Blog: Muslim Women’s Rights NGOs in India
Sylvia Vatuk discussed the emergence of a nascent women's legal rights movement in India. This movement only took the form it has today in the late 1980's-early 1990's. Activists associated with Muslim led NGOs are asking for rights under the Muslim family law. During British colonization, separate family law systems were set up for each of India's major religions. This was one feature of the British policy of non-interference. When Muslims have family disputes, they go before a judge, who is most likely not a Muslim, but will decide their case based on his views of what Shari'a requires. Some women's rights activists want universal family law, but not these women who cite the Qur'an for rights that are routinely denied them by the Indian government. They argue that the clergy has promoted a patriarchal version of Islam that is not accurate. Their arguments are addressed primarily to the clergy and the Muslim community and not the Indian government. There are women in the Arab Middle East doing this work as well. This has been called Islamic feminism, but a lot of the women themselves reject this phrase. It is used, mostly, to point out that the feminism is not secular. The term "feminism" has a stigma that makes a lot of these women uncomfortable.
There are more Muslims in India than any other country besides Indonesia, but they are a small percentage of the population and have numerous political, social and economic problems. Muslim women have been made to bear the main symbolic burden of the struggle to improve the position Indian Muslims.
The NGOs that make up this movement share key ideas, assumptions and approaches. One of the common goals is to abolish, or at least carefully control, extra-judicial unilateral divorce available only to men. Women can file for divorce in court, but this is difficult and expensive. Men, on the other hand, can obtain divorce basically just by declaring it, even by text message. The main disagreement within the movement is related to whether, and to what extent, they go beyond the boundaries of Islam for support for women's rights. Some think that Islam itself, if interpreted correctly, provides all the protection they need.
These women face adversity for several reasons. They are attacked for putting their interest as women ahead of their interests as Muslims. Also, they are accused of being immodest and neglecting their duties as wives and mothers. These are seen as attributes of western feminism, making them reluctant to call themselves feminists. Additionally, their authority to speak on Shari'a is often questioned. They argue that you do not need to be a highly trained religious expert to know that Indian Muslim women are denied they God given rights; however, because they do not have this training they are easily dismissed by those who do not want to hear what they have to say.