Can you hear a girl weeping in the corner?
By Savad Rahman
Kanthapuram Abubaker Musliyar, like “Indian Mujahideen”, is a name that the media are much interested in nowadays. When this Muslim cleric of Kerala opens his mouth the whole media rush to boil his words and cook it for hours, or even for days. He enjoys the mild loyalty of one Sunni group, of political parties like Congress, CPIM, and B.J.P, and of numerous businessmen. Meanwhile, his public statements attract a stiff, and even wild, opposition from the other Sunni faction called E.K group, and both the Mujahid and Jamaath factions, arguably the reformist movements among Muslims. Many times, the debates and programs conducted by these pro- and anti-groups, defending and opposing Kanthapuram, have proved to be unhealthy, posing a huge threat for the peaceful living of common people.
Surprisingly, however, none of the groups raised even a single voice against him when he appeared on media, publicly claiming that Muslim girls should get married at the age of 16. Kanthapuram made this statement in the context of a public debate regarding the age of marriage of Muslim girls, following a recently released state-government circular allegedly legalizing the marriage of Muslim girls at the age of 16.
While all the organizations irresponsibly kept an appalling silence, a handful of brave women, without waiting for the support of their men, raised their voice in protest in Calicut, the very epicenter of afore-said Muslim groups, publicly burning the effigies of religious scholars.
The Girls Islamic Organization (GIO) was brave enough to have a press release and openly condemned the anti-women remarks made by Kanthapuram. GIO’s parental-organization Jamaath-e-Islami kept a grave silence on the issue, though. Once we get past the differences among religious scholars in terms of the lengths of their beards and the elaborateness of their attires, their anti-women attitude reveals the fact that each and every one of the religious scholars, be it from any group, are ideologically, more or less, ‘a Kanthapuram’.
Two months later, this immature silence was broken when another news hit the media – that of a Malayali girl who was legally married to a U.A.E citizen, who later left the country divorcing her. The marriage was conducted by a committee of an orphanage situated in Calicut, where she was a student. In this case, and in stark contrast to what transpired in the previous incident, , the religious scholars and leaders of various organizations set aside their rivalries and appeared in the media, publicly arguing in favor of the alleged orphanage run by some rich and prominent personalities of the community. A press release signed by the representatives of twelve various Muslim organizations spoke vehemently against the regional media’s public trial of this orphanage and its authority. They wildly accused the whole media of degrading the institution in particular and the community in general. The release included the names of religious jurists (qadis) and of various group leaders like Kottumala Bappu Musliyar (Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama), Abduallakoya Madani (Kerala Nadwath al-Mujahidin), T. Arifali (Jamaath-i Islami), Hussain Madavoor (All India Islahi Movement), A.K Abdul Hameed (Kerala Hajj committee), Fazal Gafoor (Muslim Educational Society) and M. Muhammad (Orphanage Coordination Committee) among others. Though the bridegroom returned to U.A.E. leaving his 17 year-old spouse divorced, this press statement justified the actions of the orphanage while withholding the the name of the U.A.E citizen and failing to rebuke him in the least. The statement expressed no regret at the malpractice supervised by the orphanage authority. While the treatment of orphans and the supposed spiritual gains it brings is an oft-discussed subject in the study classes and public sermons conducted by various groups, they were noncommittal when a 17-year-old orphan girl was pitilessly victimized.
Prior to hastily concluding that the media is all set to tarnish the image of the community, these organizational representatives should sincerely try to answer the following questions: Aren’t they tarnishing themselves and the Quran, their sacred religious text, by shamelessly justifying such a heinous act by an orphanage? Aren’t they blemishing the good intentions of some persons who are ready to take care of the children in the community who are rendered orphans by the cruel hands of destiny? Aren’t they flinging mud at the walls of the very concept of orphanage, itself, where heavenly music is expected to be heard and angelic dances to be watched? Isn’t it quite interesting that the organizations who argue for the Sharia code regarding the civil rule of a girl to be married only after 18 years, are not paying heed to the same Sharia and its codes when an orphaned girl is victimized in the name of matrimony?
It is true that the community was put on a trial by the regional media. But it was earlier, not now. It was earlier when the mainstream media made a shameful attempt to depict every member of the Muslim community as wearing the blood-stained dress of terrorism and its thorny cap. At the time of Love Jihad, a regional debate that created a deep wedge in the mutual relations of Muslims and other communities, the Muslim community was made to face an unjust and unprecedented media attack. Each day, the community was hunted by the media in the public sphere so malignantly that the readers were in doubt as to whether the reports were prepared by the journalists and media personnel or by Shaka Pramukh of Rastriya Swayam Sewak, the extreme Hindu right-wing movement. Sadly, only half the number of community representatives presently seen determined to defend the authority of the orphanage, were seen publicly shielding the community against the trial by media.
Nor did these representatives publish a joint statement in the media about the brutality of Kerala Police against the Muslim natives of Beemappally, Trivandrum, where seven persons were shot to death and another fifty seriously injured. Even four years after these murders committed by state-machinery, the majority of mainstream-organizations are yet to come out of their hypocritical silence. I attribute this silence to the simple fact that the natives of Beemappally had failed to be the flag-holders of these established organizations and neither were they economically well off to donate money to these organizations, money that is used not for social causes but to display the mere power of organizational comradeship. The Muslims of Beemapally belong to Dalit/backward groups and are primarily fisherfolk, who struggle, day and night, with the sea to make ends meet. On a similar note, how many of these twelve Muslim representatives would bravely come out in public and expresses their solidarity with Chekanur Moulavi, the progressive Islamic cleric who went missing, one night, years ago? Had they kept on releasing their joint statements in due course, I think Mr. Abdul Nasar Maudani would have been the next in the list to sign this statement.
Thus it was no surprise that not even a single organization came forward to express its solidarity with the orphan girl nor did any of them seek an enquiry into the alleged marriage procedures. None of the community leaders were ready to lend his ears to a girl who complained about the cruel treatment she faced at the hands of prominent persons in whom she had placed her trust. Instead, they queued up to disparage her in a futile attempt to save the face of the elites of the community.
The Muslim organizations, who appeal to the whole community in the name of campaigning for the rights of all Muslims have proved time and again that the agendas they implement favor men and the general elites of the community. Most often, children, women and the marginalized sections of the community are swept under the carpet as these organizations champion the aspirations of the elites and their greed.
There are so many girls in the Muslim community who are cheated in the name of wedlock, known as Mysore and Gudallur marriages. Whether the above mentioned organizations should come forward to justify the villains of these nuptials, said to be conducted legally like the one discussed above, or sympathize with those unfortunate girls who fell victim to their viciousness, is the question to be answered now.
To a great extent, these gender-related problems would have been already resolved, if the female organizations of the community had utilized their collective energy to crusade for the rights, infringed under their very nose, instead of launching stirs and protests defending American imperialism and its capitalist ideologies.
This orphan girl, who is silently but boldly striving to be independent and who wants no other girl to experience the same bitterness she had to, is a living expectation of a generation that is practically thrown, all their wings cut, to face life. Undoubtedly, no other word but jihad can appropriately convey her sharpened confidence to protest against the infringement of fundamental rights.
Savad Rahman is a journalist and writer based in Cochin. He is working as Senior Sub-editor in Madhyamam Daily. He has won numerous national and international awards and fellowships for his investigative reports including the National Media Fellowship (National Foundation for India, New Delhi), Responsibility World Journalism Prize (World Editors Forum in collaboration with Alliance Network, Paris); Development Journalist of Asia Award (Asian Development Bank Institute, Tokyo) and UNDP Media Award.
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