"Predicaments of Islamic Feminism in India: Some Reflections"
This paper intends to analyse the contemporary debates about Islamic feminism in the postcolonial Indian context. Though Islamic feminist movements are yet to emerge in India as a force to be reckoned with, they have offered important ideological foundations for several organized attempts from within the community to articulate Muslim women’s issues. These attempts emphasised the secular liberal notions of rights and couched it in religious language to appeal for gender justice within Islam and elicited tremendous response from several Muslim women. This paper analyses two such initiatives from South India; Nisa in Kozhikode, Kerala and Tamil Nadu Muslim Women’s Jamaat in Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu. These two organizations are established and managed by Muslim women who spearhead the campaign for gender justice, which they claim is an integral character enshrined in holy Quran.
The paper examines the ideological as well as theological articulations of these organizations, especially their ambivalent positioning between secular and religious notions of rights and justice for Muslim women. The latter part of the paper places these initiatives in the larger political context of the country where Muslim subjects face systematic exclusions and othering given the hegemonic Hindutva mobilization, now backed by the apparatus of the nation-state. The increasing sense of marginality and insecurity under these hostile circumstances encourage the patriarchal structures of the community to vilify these initiatives as divisive and deceitful. Demands such as modification of Muslim Personal Law are vehemently opposed on the ground that such demands would only cater to the growing clamour for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), one of the long-lasting demands of Hindutva organizations in India. While identitarian and assertive exclusivist Muslim politics gain momentum in different parts of the country, any attempts by these women’s organizations to be the internal critiques are frowned upon, forcing them to tread a treacherous terrain.
It is evident that the emancipatory possibilities -however nuanced and different they are in terms of articulating agency and subjectivity- offered by postsecular feminist theories such as Islamic feminism in India face formidable challenge from the current political context characterised by a sense of insecurity, victimhood and marginalisation. It becomes yet another testimony to the historical process of the relegation of women’s questions into the margins at the time of crisis, either perceived or real.
R.Santhosh is Assistant Professor with the department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras and holds a PhD in Sociology. His research interest is in the questions of religious encounter with modernity and late modernity and particularly on the questions of citizenship, identity and secularism in the Indian context. His current research includes studies on religious civil society activism among Muslims in Kerala, a comparative study on citizenship and neoliberal state, popular religiosity and theological contestations on saint worship among Muslims. He offers a course on Religion and Modernity for the Masters students at IIT Madras. His latest publications include ‘Muslims in Contemporary India: Socio-religious diversity and the questions of Citizenship’ in Knut Robinson (ed) Routledge Handbook on Contemporary India, Routledge, (2015), ‘Islamic Activism and Palliative Care: An Analysis from Kerala’ in Philip Fountain, Robin Bush and R. Michael Feener (ed) Religion and Politics of Development. Palgrave Macmillan (2015) and ‘Contextualizing Islamic Contestations; Reformism, Traditionalism and Modernity among Muslims of Kerala’ Indian Anthropologist. Vol.43, No.2. July-December (25-42) 2013.