“Rebellion against tyrant is obedience to God” – Benjamin Franklin.
We believe that this is the core tenet of all religions. All religions preach love for humankind and equality before God. However, even a suggestion that there could be a misinterpretation of any religious tenets is taken as an assault on the religion itself and leads to communal flares. In addition, if someone suggests that a religious leader could have been involved in sexual abuse, he or she can be persecuted without any enquiry into the matter.
This is the story of VP Rajeena who is a subeditor with a leading Malyalam daily named Madhyamam. She is a winner of the Ramnath Goenka Award. Recently she has courted controversy due to her involvement in the debate about gender equality in Islam and faced furor of her community members for her Facebook post dated 22nd November, 2015 (19:31 pm IST).
The Logical Indian community endeavours to present to the readers all facts as we receive them and invite their opinions on the matter.
October 26th, 2015:
A protest march had been organized by students of Farook College which is a premium institution under the aegis of Muslim management in Kozhikode. The college adheres to strict codes of conduct which does not allow free intermingling of men and women. The week before four girls and five boys were found sitting side-by-side by a Malyalam professor. They were told to leave the class and come back with their guardians. Five students obeyed and were reinstated into the class.
CPM’s student wing, SFI led the protest march and clashed with Muslim Student Movement, the Student’s Islamic Organisation and the Kerala Students Union who supported the college management. There also started a debate on gender equality.
This agitation on gender equality was the trigger behind Rajeena’s post on her Facebook timeline, the full text of which can be read here:
Paraphrasing this post would mean that it begins with a plea to pardon the accuracy of her memories from when she was just 7. She reveals how an Ustaad, sharing the name of the 4th Caliph (read Ali) had summoned the boys of the class, unzipped their pants and started feeling them up under the pretext of taking measurements for clothes. Another Ustaad would grope the girls in the madrassa when there was load shedding at nights. She even recalls an incident about a girl named Najma who had tried to protest loudly. After that she had been beaten up under various pretexts.
A madrassa is managed by Islamic religious institutions. For example, in Kerala they are run mainly by Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen and Jam’at-e-Islami Hind. They are two factions of Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama. The aim of a madarsaa is to impart religious education to children over and above their regular academic curriculum. Their timings are managed in a way that they do not clash with mainstream classes and enable children to pursue religious education from class 1 to class 12th. Classes are held either in the early mornings, evenings or on weekends.
No wonder as soon as Rajeena posted this status message, she received a torrent of abuse and threats from social media users. There have been typical victim shaming, personal and lewd comments, and allegations that Rajeena has been trying to propagate Islamophobia.
The questions of child sexual abuse or gender equality were thrown out of the window and Rajeena’s account was blocked by Facebook for mass reporting since the post went viral, being shared 1700 times by then.
Sulthanul Ulama A.P. Abubakar Musliyar Kanthapuram has rejected Rajeena’s allegations stating, “give us the proof and we will look into the matter”.
Of course, there was a rally of supporters, too. “Online communities, especially For a Better FB, took up the issue and helped secure my account.”
On 30th November, Kerala filmmaker, Ali Akbar recounted an incident of sexual abuse he had faced as a student of class 4th at a madrasa in Wayanad district. “That madrasa was run by Kanthapuram Musliyar. If Musliyar is willing to look into the issue, I am ready to give details of the ustad,’’ said Akbar to The Indian Express.
Others have also reported cases of sexual abuse in madasrsaas. Consequently, the apex body of Islamic Shariah in the country, namely the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) decided to take up the issue in its next meeting at Amroah instead of ignoring the matter. An advisory could also be circulated in all madrasas. A member of AIMPLB’s working committee, Kamal Farooqui told The Indian Express: “We admit that people in madrassas are not farishta (angels) but human beings. They are also prone to social evils. We have to take corrective action immediately. We cannot permit anything which is against our religion and the law of the land. Proper dos and don’ts will be circulated to madrassas.”
While we wait to hear about the conclusion of the Board meeting, we can take a stock of what Rajeena has to say about this in the meantime. “I am happy to know about AIMPLB’s decision,” Rajeena said in an interview. “I wrote about the abuses we faced at the madrassa in our childhood, but I also criticised the uninformed religious leaders who denounce gender equality and exhort their followers that equal status for both sexes will usher in anarchism in society. I hope the religious body will look into the bigger issue of gender equality soon.”
Rajeena is of the opinion that because Muslim women in Kerala have begun to assert their strength in politics, education and administration, they have become a source of threat to the clerics. Empowering women would mean disturbing the status quo and disturbing their stranglehold over the community. Gender equality in Muslim community is hindered due to some uninformed religious leaders. She adds, “My view on Islamic feminism is influenced by the likes of Fatema Mernissi, who passed away last week.” She also wonders why the clerics are afraid of addressing the issue of gender equality in the community. “I believe Islam exhorts equal status for men and women. But the clerics distort the facts and use it for keeping their hegemony.” She also believes that political parties do not want to intervene because of vote bank politics.
She has raised potent questions to all those who commented she’s tarnishing the image of Islam: “Should Islam save molesters and p(a)edophiles? Is Islam that weak?” and then says “For me, Islam is not, for me, Islam ascertains the rights of not only men and women, but also all living beings in this universe”.
It is true that Rejeena has stirred up a hornet’s nest by raising this sensitive issue of child sexual abuse by Ustaads who are the most revered members of the Islamic community. However, we urge our readers not to get personal and lewd and wait for the final observations made by the AIMPLB, and hope that proper investigation would be carried out. All stakeholders should get the benefit of the doubt. The issue at stake here is child sexual abuse and gender equality. Let us not lose sight of these potent issues and be tolerant, a much abused term in contemporary India, while we debate on them.