By Ashiya Parveen
The heinous act of putting over 80 Indian Muslim women on sale on a fake auction online needs to be condemned in the strongest possible manner. Only a collective voice welling up from the ground encompassing reactions from across the genders and communities would perhaps help contain such religious bigotry laced with misogyny.
But was this the case? Was there a collective reaction against such derogatory act, targeting primarily the vocal, assertive, independent Muslim women who do not fit into their stereotyped images of being victimised and backward?
Usually, the image of such successful, vocal women is treated as an important index to measure the Muslim community’s progressive attitude. But when a few such women were subjected to the hate agenda of some evil forces, popular reaction was baffling.
Such muted condemnation of the sexualised attack on Muslim women would have a downward spiral effect on other women, specifically those belonging to moderate backgrounds.
It is evident in the response of many out of 83 women whose pictures were uploaded on GitHub-hosted ‘Sulli Deals’ app – GitHub later took down the app – as they reportedly deleted their pictures or chose to hide their real identities on social media.
Therefore, a critical analysis of the muffled popular reaction to the abominable attack on Muslim women is required for at least two reasons: first, to highlight the need for strong gender-based intersectional solidarity to dissuade religious bigots from treating women as soft targets, and second, to reinforce the argument that the gender-based violence must be deconstructed vis-a-vis prevailing hatred against the Muslim community.
Building intersectional alliance against the hate agenda
Building strong cross-gender solidarity across class, education, occupation, age, ideological affiliation, faith etc., has always remained a pre-requisite to address pressing issues concerning women, specifically in a patriarchal society.
In this context, the solidarity demonstrated by the ordinary mass, specifically the ordinary Muslim women, whose support made #speakagainst_sullideals feature among top five twitter trends, was telling.
However, voices emerging from the periphery of a hierarchical, masculine society remain vulnerable to suppression. In India, Muslim women constitute minority within minority, and therefore, their resistance requires a broad intersectional solidarity to build a formidable opposition against misogyny interspersed with religious hatred.
Building upon their gendered experiences, both Muslim and non-Muslim women belonging to different strata would surely find it necessary to erect a unified alliance against the prevailing hate campaign.
In addition, support of the empowered women would give required energy to the fight being waged by a few women who were at the receiving end of the recent attack. It would further embolden many other women, specifically from the lower strata of society to speak up and amplify the voice of resistance.
In this context, support and condemnation by figures like Rana Ayyub, Ayesha Kidwai, Ghazala Jamil, Pratiksha Baxi, Kavita Krishnan, Uma Chakravarty give hope to expand the alliance against growing misogyny and religious hatred.
Sexualised attack on Muslim women part of anti-Muslim hatred
The deconstruction of the gender-based violence vis-a-vis prevalent anti-Muslim hate agenda builds upon the acknowledgement that the mere existence of vocal, politically assertive Muslim women in the public sphere – both real and virtual – presents a serious setback to the organised hate agenda against the Muslim community.
That’s the reason why these women are at the receiving end of the organised attack against the Muslim community.
But the fact that the attack on the Muslim women is part of a broader communal agenda prompts one to enquire about the reactions registered by the male members, including notable figures, of the Muslim community.
Of course, this is not an attempt to put the Muslim men in the dock or to take the attention away from the anti-Muslim hate campaign.
Rather, the aim is to drive home the point that a unified cross-gender opposition from within the Muslim community would provide necessary steam to the struggle against religious and misogynistic attacks and help broaden the alliance against such practices.
Combat hate agenda with cross-community solidarity
Of late, increasing communal polarisation has affected the social fabric of India and made life miserable, primarily but not solely, for the Muslim minority.
The support extended by the members of the other communities to counter the repeated act of cyber violence against Muslim women apparently grew out of concern to maintain some level of social cohesion.
The condemnation by over 800 women’s rights organisations and individuals, including members of various communities is a step in the right direction. Such cross-community alliance is perhaps the only alternative available to the populace to contain the effect of communal polarisation.
After all, men and women belonging to other communities cannot afford to ignore the spill-over effect of the widespread misogyny and increasing communal polarisation.
(The author is a doctoral candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)