Wednesday, February 4, 2009


The Sri Ram Sena is much in the news for attacking boys and girls drinking in a pub in Mangalore. There has rightly been widespread condemnation and outrage at the efforts of this outfit to do moral policing in the name of Indian culture. Politicians, Renuka Chowdhary apart, quick to sense the mood of the masses, have however come out against "pub culture". Rajasthan CM Gehlot is in fact not happy with the culture of boys and girls even holding hands in public, much less downing a few pegs together.

In the middle of all this, two developments have taken place in opposite directions. The Delhi High Curt has allowed married couples only to display their affections in public, ruling that “….It is inconceivable how an expression of love by a young married couple would attract offence of obscenity and trigger the coercive process of law,…”. This has, naturally, warmed the hearts of many of us who believe that expressions of love between unmarried couple should also be permitted. India has to shed its medieval mindset and embrace 21st century.

The Uttar Pradesh Board of Madrassa Education (UPBME), however, believes that any "free interaction between boys and girls" is not permitted by Islam". It has described co-education in schools as "anti-Islamic and against the sharia" and has banned it across madrassas in the state. "Parda" (veil) is essential in Islam and co-education encourages "be-pardagi" (removal of veil). So says Haji Rizwan Haq, chairman of the UPBME.

So, where does this fiat of Islamic fundamentalists leave 15% of India's women? Forget going to pubs or even restaurants, they are barred from even studying with boys. From here, it is but a short walk to total Talibanisation where women are barred from studying altogether, and have to be so totally veiled that if they are stationary, a stranger may well believe that he is looking at sacks filled with unidentifiable goods. (Read this disturbing post with a video that I could not bring myself to watch, by my German blogger friend Georg)

How can we call ourselves a liberal, modern nation when such a large number of our women are oppressed in the name of religion and not a voice is raised? Will we hear Renuka Chowdhary rant against the UPBME? Will we see the blogosphere go up in incensed flames? Will there be protests and petitions by myriad womens' organisations?

Nothing is of the sort is going to happen because no one wants to ruffle the feathers of Islamic fundamentalists. More importantly, none of those who agitate against the many 'senas', socially mingle or identify with Muslim women for whom time has largely stood still. They will dishonestly keep pretending as if these women belong to another planet.

The question is: Can India really move forward into a New Age as a progressive and liberal nation if one in every six of its women are actually moving back in time?

P.S. This ban on co-education by the UPBME comes just a month after militants banned it in North Waziristan, Pakistan. To the best of my knowledge, UPBME is not affiliated in any manner to these militant groups. Are we missing something? Is this a sign of things to come? Is it surprising that no Indian blogger has written about the ban till now?
Recommended reading: Valentines Day: It's chaddi vs langot!