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Women across faiths challenge patriarchy within religion

Women from different religions during a protest at Azad Maidan on Tuesday—Photo: Vijay Bate  

Male religious heads have for long used religion as a tool to subjugate women. Women’s groups on Tuesday questioned the notions of purity, hygiene and segregation when it came to accessing places of religious worship.

Women and men from the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), Bhumata Brigade, Sahiyo, Vaghini Mahila Sanghatana (VMS), Muslims for Secular Democracy, and Bharat Bachao Andolan staged a protest at the Azad Maidan demanding religious freedom and equal access to places of worship.

Challenging the supremacy of male clerics, Noorjehan Safia Niaz of BMMA, who had filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court demanding entry for women in the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali dargah, said, “Why should I believe their Islam? Can’t I read the Quran myself? Do I need agents and contractors? We will read the book ourselves and derive our own meaning. What are the governments and judges afraid of? Are they afraid of the ‘maulavis’ and ‘mullahs’?.”

She said the clergy branded women as ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’, and imposed restrictions on going out of the house. “They use religion to suppress us. Women are also to be blamed for blindly following them. They have tarnished our religion.”

Some Bohra women questioned the practice of female circumcision in the community. Ms Insia Dariwala, from Sahiyo, said: “We do not want ‘khatna’ (circumcision in which a girl’s clitoral hood is cut). We don’t know why it is cut. Some believe it’s for hygiene, while some believe it excites women. We are in the 21st century, and there is enough soap and water. We can teach hygiene to our children. The scars from this practice are not just physical, but also mental. We are against such ancient practices that crush a woman before she grows up. We are women who have no right to their body.”

With a section of Bohra women raising the issue, the community has begun discussing the practice. The genital mutilation case of a woman from Dawoodi Bohra community in Australia last year gave impetus to the campaign back home. “Many were not speaking out of fear,” said Arefa Johari, also with Sahiyo. “The clergy do not give any official reason for the practice. Everything is kept private. But as some people spoke out many more are coming forward.”

Meanwhile, Hindu women’s struggle to enter Shani Shingnapur also found an echo at the protest. Jyoti Badekar of VMS called for a critical look at religions if they denied women equal rights.

Another protestor, Michelle Vas, said while women were allowed inside churches, they were not part of decision-making.

Politician Sudheendra Kulkarni also attended the protest. He said practising inequality was not in tune with true religious spirit, and that women have many hurdles before them.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 9:41:04 AM |

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