Violence on the female body and mind, in private and public spaces continues as an endless and thriving phenomenon for women from disenfranchised communities, well into modernity. This is possible only because the state and its institutions as well as civil society sanction it, through action and inaction. Violence on these women is about the bloodcurdling kind; it is also about forms rarely associated with this word: the malnourished female body is the result of selectively failing systems, that they work efficiently for other women indicates the insidious ways in which violence manifests. All societies that render marginalized women undernourished and unhealthy are indeed violent societies.
In these ongoing crimes we are all implicated as perpetrators and abettors. We devise many ways to hide from this ugly truth about ourselves, and one common ploy is to intellectually distance ourselves from these women –pretend they are on a planet separate from ours and all things happening there can be viewed superficially or ignored all together. At all times keep ourselves pure from that violence, if we do not see, hear, talk or think about it, we can lull our brains into imagining that we play no active role in that violence. Almost attain a spiritual distance! However, some voices do not care for this personal and public deception, increasingly I see these voices belong to Muslim women. I am deeply suspicious of elite women from any community taking up digital and text space espousing the cause of women as they have a tendency to reduce the vast canvas of experience and insights to a pixel of themselves –which leads to caricaturing the women’s experiences they intended to represent. But in contemporary times both elite and other Muslim women have managed to usher in an insurgent intellectual era that is rooted in the lived experiences of the most marginalized in their societies. I also find in their articulation an understanding of politics and its grip on female sexuality, freedom and all things female, more powerful, more realistic than other kinds of female voices attempting the same.
An exceptional observation in the diverse Muslim women’s voices articulating on women’s issues is that they seem to have the rare appreciation of the very obvious but completely ignored fact of human life: high intelligence is required for the survival of the most stressed humans – the marginalized women. Intelligence is deployed in extremely complex ways to retain their humanity while almost perpetually living in soul-destroying conditions. This is brought to light in the sensitive portrayal of the marginalized women’s struggle for a dignified life in stories by authors like the Kannada writer Bhanu Mustaq, in poems by the young Telugu poet Shahjahana, in the intellectual analysis of violence by drawing on personal stories by Muslim women activists working in NGO’s spread across the Muslim world. To the ones who follow the message in their articulation -marginalized women do not require our intelligence to save them; they need us to use it on ourselves to stop being the triggers and abettors of violence. It is we who need corrective measures to lead less violent lives. Can we?
The killing of the prominent Afghan intellectual-activist Meena in the late 80′s left a deep impact on me, her organization RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan) is the most inspiring model of activism for me, if some readers are not familiar with their work, please read here. Closer home, Bhanu Mushtaq’s short stories brought home the power of the individual to demand change -no matter how alone she was and how bereft of material possessions. I have had access to very few poems by Shahjahana that were translated, and I am always looking for more of her amazing poetry. Other voices further away from home like Shirin Ebadi, Ayaan Ali, Shirin Neshat and many others help me focus on the psychology of gender violence (both, the aggression and resistance). While there are such few insights into the lives of dalit women and their struggles, I eagerly and naturally draw from Muslim women’s articulation on aspects of gender violence.
Thoughts on this topic are on various drafts, I hope to find the time to compile them into a post or posts. Some friends find me naive that I am not taking the whole context in which some of these Muslim women are being heard. That’s OK, if, I am shown other voice/s that situates correctly the marginalized woman as a highly intelligent human and examines analytically the forces and sources of violent actions of society which leave her at its receiving end , then I will reexamine my fixation, until then I am deeply grateful to these powerful and meaningful Muslim women’ s voices.