Indulgent Men, Slogging Women, Marital Mess
Mirage of Islamic Family Ethos
Family values cannot be nurtured with one-sided exhortation of modesty for
I have been working among students for the last two decades, trying to counsel
them on careers, funding their studies through scholarships, arranging
accommodation in hostels, and organising orientation camps to bring them in
touch with professionals from diverse fields of activity. The work often takes
me to Muslim dominated slums in Bangalore. Nearly six lakh, i.e., about 40 per
cent of Bangalore Muslims live in slums or near slum conditions. Teeming
multitudes crammed into small houses built across narrow streets, these slums
are inhabited by petty businessmen, self-employed individuals such as
auto-rickshaw drivers, tinkerers, welders, auto mechanics, bakers and hawkers. A
social worker who lives in one such typical slum, has often brought to me
several meritorious students with high aspirations and enough talent and
dynamism. I hereunder present some facts of family lives in order that our
readers could draw visual images of mode of life in these slums: (In order to
protect the privacy of the individuals, all names have been changed).
• Akbari is 49 and has given birth to 25 kids. Twenty three of them live with
her in a house that is barely bigger than 25 feet by 12 feet. Several of them
are married and have kids who share the scarce space.
• My friend takes me to a particular street and bets that he could point out a
dozen Muslim grandmothers whose ages range from 27 to 30.
• A coaching academy run by a concerned Muslim in the locality has 15 Muslim
girls on its rolls who are being coached for 10th grade Board exams. Of these,
four are divorced women.
• Naseema is 65 and is a housemaid. She is herself second existing wife of her
husband. She bore 14 children, all alive. Six of her daughters are second
existing wives of their husbands.
Most of our students come from these families caught in indebtedness, deep
psychological tensions and often caught with family discords. In more than 95
per cent cases, the students approach us in company of mothers, not fathers.
Family’s ailments generally owe themselves to economically irresponsible fathers
who are alcoholics and spendthrifts. Entering into multiple marital alliances,
they barely care to maintain the families. Those into roaming occupations viz.
hawkers or auto drivers, exploit the anonymity offered by a metropolis and
indistinguishable localities and go about marrying ever new women and continue
their wayward behaviour. Desertions are therefore more rampant than divorces.
Huddled living and fear of young girls eloping with boys from the neighbouring
house, result in marriages soon after attainment of puberty. Dawn of adult
conscio-usness is early as large families and several couples share the narrow
residential space. Early marriage leads to child-mothers and hampers sufficient
education of girls. Cascade of kids hardly ever allows the weak family economy
to afford decent schooling and productive education. If girls are married away
early, boys are pressed into worksites without any definitive occupational
Menial labour or skull duggery keeps company for next three decades or so. Hard
labour renders the men invalid by the time they cross the age of 40. Ailments
induced by hard labour and insanitary habitat, eat into their vitals. It renders
them incapable of raising incomes commensurate to the needs of the large
families. Vicious cycle goes on, sucking into its vortex, Muslim multitudes. No
wonder then, why slums in Bangalore are infested with delinquent husbands,
broken homes, vagabond children and divorced and deserted women saddled with
kids whose future hangs in balance.
We heard a lot of buzz early November 2006, with a dawah body, organising
hundreds of symposia and press meets highlighting the ‘virtues’ of Islamic
family ethos. Most activity was restricted to upwardly mobile middle class.
Speeches were laced with high decible rhetoric. Modesty and hijab was high on
list of recommendations and live-in relationships, promiscuousness, alcoholism
came in for criticism. That’s all fine. But the campaign was short on sound
analysis of the socio-economic context in which Muslims exist in India.
Family values cannot be nurtured with one-sided exhortation of modesty for
women. Roots of malady are too deeply entwined with socio-economic ills to be
remedied with simplistic solutions or reading of glossy leaflets. Modesty of
dress and behaviour are a luxury for families where women slog and men are
slothful. Modesty of behaviour has much to do with kind of schooling, etiquette
imparted at homes and even pattern of housing. And as one would realize, none of
these could be subject matter of campaigns. They require long planning,
sustained drive and a whole lot of paraphernalia that is least expected to be
raised in a week or fortnight designated for highlighting certain themes. It
requires a holistic understanding of problems rather than a facile fortnight
Women are invariably denied share in inheritance be it from parents or husbands.
Nearly half the dowry burning cases of women in Bangalore originate from Muslim
families. Police are routinely bribed to suppress the cases. Meh’r is hardly
Urban slums are increasingly becoming paradise for Muslim men and nightmare for
women. Lascivious men indulge themselves in all vices while women have to bear
the brunt of raising families. But the mosque sermons still exhort the men about
virtues of raising large families and talk about subservience of women to men.
Since women are barred from congregational prayers, it all leads to heightened
awareness of man’s dominant position in a Muslim family. Hence, provisions like
polygamy, three utterances of ‘talaq’, absence of alimony on dissolution of
marriage are abused to the hilt. To boot, there is no mechanism in place within
the community for marital counseling, to shelter women unfairly sent out of
their marital homes, to ensure that meh’r (dower) amount is transferred to
brides and she exercises her right to have it for her use. There is no effort to
make the husbands take care of kids they have sired, to ensure a decent
livelihood for all in the family.
We have been witness to the Muslim Personal Law Board mounting spectacles year
after year in all-India sessions or talking about status of women in Islam, but
has not bothered to set up even a single marital counseling home or a short stay
home for women from broken families. Women are invariably denied share in
inheritance be it from parents or husbands. Nearly half the dowry burning cases
of women in Bangalore originate from Muslim families. Police are routinely
bribed to suppress the cases. Meh’r is hardly ever paid. No thought has been
spared to give the women the right to claim half the property gathered after
marriage if the marriage is dissolved. In areas where even the writ of the
police does not run, how could darul qazas implement their fiats. Girls are
married away much before the prescribed national age for marriage and sulk life
long for having acquired no education.
We may sustain the illusion of a happy Muslim family through campaigns. But
socio-economic realities are too grim to be denied. No wonder why others smile
at us disdainfully when they see the mismatch between loud rhetoric and messy
family scenario. Morale of the women in the family would go up only when they
find that they are treated with fairness, dignity and equality. If not in the
family, they should have forums within the community to attend to their
grievances. Unfortunately, mechanism to redress these grievances is nowhere to
be seen. There are only high sounding slogans, no substance.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Source: Islamic Voice, Bangalore, India. January 2007