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Indulgent Men, Slogging Women, Marital Mess

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj


Mirage of Islamic Family Ethos

Family values cannot be nurtured with one-sided exhortation of modesty for women.

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 training.

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 long campaign.

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.

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
Source: Islamic Voice,  Bangalore, India. January 2007


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