By Mouris Bashir
When we open our eyes, typically, we have a clear picture of the world out there but that’s actually not the case; we use what we already know about the world in order to generate an unambiguous perception of the world. However, my perception keeps changing and of late I have started to wonder and wander.
I wake up every day and wonder about a fear that is consuming me from within. I fear for my sister, my female relatives, my female friends and I feel an onerous responsibility for my brother, other male members of my family. I fear that my sister, my female relatives must negotiate a society and a landscape where there are evidently so many men who would randomly, indiscriminately harm her, just because she is a woman. For my sister, who has all this ahead of her, unless the rest of us––men make sure things change. We must tell them that our fellow men kill women because something about Kashmiri society and the society at large has conditioned them to think that they can. And as overwhelmed and as frightened as that might make some men like me feel, we have to somehow call it out and do anything we can to change it.
Gulshan Akhtar, who heads Srinagar’s lone women’s police station, has been quoted in various news agencies: “When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period. Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually and the state women’s commission receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.”
Now have a look at these headlines:
“Women set on fire by husband in Shopian”
“Woman killed by in-laws in Khanyar”
“Romana Javed mowed down by stalkers”
These are all news headlines and there are multitudes like them out there. We all have read this. The first two are very recent. The third incident occurred in May 2009; back then there were a handful of Kashmiris on Facebook and Twitter when I came across this news item. These stalkers were/are part of a gang of harassers, some from influential families and some just unemployed or uneducated men, and they act like beasts waiting for their prey outside tuition centres or women’s educational institutions. The two accused, Ubaid Khan and Shoaib Dariyal, have never been taken to justice even though the evidence incriminates them. But honestly, we all know someone in our family, among our relatives, in our neighbourhood, in our schools, or our workplaces, who is a misogynist, thinks and believes women are inferior, and will use a plethora of (wrong) examples from religious scriptures and sayings of some preachers of the past and present to justify his lunacy. The saddest part is that this number is growing. This is a concern. Women are just like men, equal to us in everything, some would argue not in strength and will power, but try having a baby or running a house for a day or get in a cage fight with Ronda Roussey. I see woman outperform men in everything these days with so little opportunities, and so many challenges/rules/obstacles set by men, so can we afford to ignore the rights of women?
Can we afford to ignore them and their rights? No, because they are an equal part of this world, ignore them and one day it will haunt us. So we, the civilised men, have to stand up and ask to be listened to, for all of us. Because our society, our preachers, our leaders, our various Islamic contingents don’t listen to these women or to us. For them they don’t matter. They are not our equals. For them a woman was responsible for Prophet Adam’s ouster from the gardens of Paradise, they believe in the “fall of man” a Biblical concept, and not the Islamic concept which says both were equally responsible. So we have to inform and educate others and particularly our women about their rights.
In the past, traditional interventions from elders was a weapon used to change behaviour, usually targeting an individual’s attitudes and knowledge. However, if a practice is a social norm, then it involves a whole group of people, not just an individual. Emerging evidence shows that individual’s behaviour may be more influenced by what he thinks others do and think (social norms). So even if you succeed in changing someone’s attitudes about using violence, he may still use violence if there is a social norm to do so, due to fear of others’ disapproval (e.g., friends teasing him that he is controlled by his wife and not a “real” man). We need to focus on the role of social expectations in determining behaviour.
We, have to call each other out on our behaviour; name casual misogyny where they experience it; older men must mentor the young about the dangers of pervasive gender inequity in our society and how they can make it better; and society’s male role models – cultural, religious, sporting, commercial, educational and, yes, political – have a duty to not only lead by example but to stamp down on hatred of women and violence against them, in their respective orbits. Perhaps, it is easier said than done.
If the Quran has made a dress code mandatory, it is not just for a woman, but for all humans; believers that is. Years and years of debate and reams and reams of paper have been wasted on how a woman should conduct herself out on the street, in their homes, in the market etc., but not much has been written about how a man should conduct himself. If there is an Islamic dress code for a woman, there is one for a man. You dress that way, and I am sure woman will follow suit and even if they don’t who gives you the right to be the moral police! Islam is not a culture please don’t make it one. It is a way of life, a religion of peace, harmony and understanding.
During the reign of ‘Umar (RA), women participated in law making. ‘Umar (RA) made a proposal of a regulating Mehr of a woman at the time of marriage. A woman in the gathering stood up and said, “’Umar, you can’t do that.” ‘Umar did not tell her, “Shut up, you are a woman, you have nothing to do with politics, etc.” He asked, “Why?” She made her argument on the basis of the Quran and Hadith. In front of everybody, he stood up and said, “The woman is right and ‘Umar is wrong,” and he withdrew his proposal. In the most authentic collection of Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, a section is devoted to the participation of women, not only in public affairs, but in the battlefield too, and not only as logistical support. Women carried arms, and when there was great danger to the Muslims, they volunteered to participate even in the battlefield.
The problems presented here are not the problems of Islam. They are problems of a lack of commitment, lack of application, or misapplication of Islamic teachings by Muslims, particularly those living in the Valley. There is a void, a big one that exists between the teachings of Islam as derived from its original sources and its projected image in the West and the way some Muslims behave, disregarding of those noble teachings.
But I still want to scream with frustration and anger for the dead and injured; that I live in a world where attitudes towards gender are so perversely skewed that statistics show that one in five young people across the globe believe women are partly responsible for rape. This number will be higher if we survey Kashmir, 1 in 6 think “no” might mean “yes”, many think stalking a female partner is OK. Unfortunately, stalking seems to have become a national past-time in our part of the world. Most young men don’t know what it means. This is where our religious leaders could come in, they could use Friday sermons to inform people, but then they are ill-informed themselves.
—The author is a student at the University of Edinburgh.