Even sixty years after independence, Indian Muslim women have remained unrepresented and unheard. The Sachar Committee appointed by the Prime Minister established the fact of poverty and socio-economic exclusion of the largest minority in recent decades. Although the report is sympathetic to Muslim women, it does not have detailed analysis of their condition and the issues faced by them. Women in every community are victim of neglect, discrimination and other forms of injustice. This is true for Muslim women too. However, as has been pointed out by many perceptive observers, Muslim women constitute “minority within minority”. The condition of Muslim women from the poorer sections is far worse.
In today’s fast changing society, the Rights of women are at stake and their position has become vulnerable. The balance between Womens’ Rights and its protection and her family and social responsibilities is totally disturbed. Women have a role to play in society, family and country. They have to fulfill their responsibilities as daughters, sisters, mothers, wife, daughter-in-laws and as citizens of the country.
If we talk about overall empowerment of women in India since independence, successive governments have tried to introduce measures to empower women. Yet, the expected measure of success has not occurred due to reasons like bureaucratic delays, political compulsions, social and cultural constraints and the continuing poverty of the masses. Obtaining some measures of economic self sufficiency and independence is prerequisite to any advancement of women at social, cultural and political level.
The silver lining in the cloud has been the development of several grassroot movements initiated by women themselves, especially from the lower sections of society.
No less important than the government’s initiatives are the society’s own mutually caring and cooperative actions that strengthen the ethos of social harmony and inter-dependence. Exclusive thinking, exclusive concerns and excessive reliance on exclusive policies can never lead to inclusive development. It will not promote social and national integration, which must form the bed rode of both government and societal effort for inclusive development.
Yet another shortcoming in the debate and the governmental action that followed the Sachar report is that the problems and concerns of Muslim women have been largely bypassed. Grossly inadequate attention has been paid to the condition of Muslim women, their socio-economic and educational backwardness, and the efforts needed to bring them into nation’s development mainstream.
Muslims lag in education, which is responsible for most of the problems faced by the community. If women of the community are educated, things would change as women are the axis of Indian families. Muslim women could reform the whole family. Moreover, this will help her in protecting her rights and controlling crimes against women. The community’s educational and economic backwardness makes it necessary for policy makers to take urgent steps to alleviate their condition. The exclusion of women, especially, calls for a thorough analysis, leading to understanding their need and issues, followed by multi-prolonged action to ensure equality of Muslim women in principle and in reality as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. The recent census in India has brought out a positive fact about the sex ratio in the Muslim community being better than most other socio-religious communities. There is a need to build this positive trend by paying equal attention to girl’s education and health and nutrition for the girl child and the mother.
Apart from health care and nutrition, girls need opportunities for higher education. They need safety and security in order to access education of their choice. They need support and encouragement at home and in the community to realize their full potential as human beings. It calls for policy measures and financial allocations by the government, apart from a supportive atmosphere in the family. Educated and empowered girls can be the change agents for an empowered community in the future. Social empowerment in general and women empowerment in particular is fundamental in achieving these goals.
Territory education is especially important so that women can move into positions of political, economical and social leadership. The Sachar Committee agreed that Muslim women were homebased working women. These women missed out on education opportunities, but were nevertheless working informally and out of their homes. They work for very low wages and often in hazardous activities like beedi making and others that are hazardous to eyes, lungs and skin.
They are mostly underpaid or unpaid and exploited by middlemen. These women need support at multiple levels beginning with skill training, skill upgradation, marketing support, financial support, etc. In fact, voluntary organizations and experts face a lot of challenges in empowering Muslim women. The work must happen at various levels, apart from continuous advocacy and campaigning for governmental accountability. They face the challenge of correcting and building understanding and perspective in the society.