Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies (SNCWS) organized a two-Day International Seminar on the theme titled, “Mapping Research on Muslim Women: Retrospect and Prospects,” at the FTK-CIT hall on Sept. 22 and 23, 2015.
The keynote speaker for the event was the renowned political scientist and feminist writer, Prof. Zoya Hasan.
The seminar was chaired by Prof. Talat Ahmad, vice-chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia.
The purpose of the seminar was to make the invisible category of Indian Muslim women, visible in the contemporary discourse. The idea was to understand the politics of social construction of the image of Indian Muslim women and also to debunk stereotypes associated with this category.
Prof. Rumki Basu, honorary director of SNCWS, inaugurated the seminar by welcoming the vice-chancellor and the chief guest, Prof. Hasan. She also introduced the first batch of students for the M.A. in Gender Studies program of SNCWS.
The vice-chancellor congratulated the centre for organizing such an extensive seminar on such a crucial theme as it is one of the topics which is considered to have been relegated to the back-benches of research analysis. He also advised that the centre should be developed by taking academic work and teaching responsibility together. He congratulated the organizing committee for raising such a significant and relevant issue by organizing a seminar on it. He also welcomed the first batch students of M.A. in Gender Studies. He also emphasized on the urgent need to empower women by giving them more responsibilities. He cited an example of the first women post office opened in Kashmir University during his tenure as vice-chancellor of the university.
The organising secretary of the seminar, Dr. Firdous Azmat Siddiqui, spoke on the basic theme and the agenda of the seminar which she said was as an attempt to gather data on the topic from across all disciplines, and said the main purpose of the seminar was to make history visible and explore facts on the historical and contemporary perspectives on Muslim women. She also said that she hoped the seminar would lead to an energized and intelligent discussion on the question: why Muslim women remained invisible in academic discourse, and how can we make them visible?
Following which, the keynote speaker, Prof. Zoya Hasan, who has worked extensively on the subject of Indian Muslim women and minority issues, talked about the interplay of politics, religion and women issues and rights; especially the issues of Indian Muslim women, which has been a missing category of analysis and research and is almost invisible as topic of modern discourse.
By bringing forth instances where religion and politics had let to the sidelining of women’s basic rights, she threw light on the identity crisis Indian Muslim women experience as a citizen of a secular nation and as a member of a religious community. She focused on the topic of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the politics of religion between the right-wing and Muslim conservatives. She highlighted that it would be a debate regarding Uniformity and Minority rights, secularism vs religious ideas, modernity vs. tradition. Even though she supported UCC, she talked about a more inclusive and plural idea of UCC, which will take into account minority issues, especially the issue of minority women which she said is not a homogeneous monolithic category but an equally diverse category.
Thirty-eight participant also presented their research papers during the seminar on various interdisciplinary issues, mostly focusing on six following issues: revisiting history, partition narratives, literature, religion, personal law, education and other challenges.
Participant were a diverse group of people representing places such as, Germany, Maharashtra, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Manipur.
The most debated issue at the seminar was the Uniform Civil Code, as many scholars spoke frequently on the issues related to polygamy, threat of triple Talaq.
Dr. Azmat also presented a paper which focused on the question: how diversity should be taken into account on issues of Muslim women before talking on personal law. She spoke on how Indian Muslims are bound with customary laws since long and it was the British who sowed the seed of communal strife in the form of codification of law and many other perceptions related to Muslim Women, which is still a bone of contention; be it perceived growth rate of Muslim, or their alien towards legal reform. She emphasized that it was the patriarchal legal system instituted by the British which systematically deprived women, rather than religion.
Reproductive rights of Muslim women was also discussed as Dr Constanze Weigl, who has worked on Nizamuddin Basti focused her presentation on the challenges faced by Muslim women of Delhi, and she also focused on how the heterogeneous nature of Muslim women should be taken into account rather than generalizing them as a monolithic block. She also focused on the shifting trend in the Muslim community related to decision-making of family planning, and how women give priority to economic constrains rather than religion. Caste, class and region also emerged as one of the major determinants to the mapping research on Muslim women rather than religion.
The seminar concluded with a valedictory remark by Prof. Baran Farooqi who drew an urgent attention to see women’s status from women’s perspective, what Muslim women want, not how they are perceived. She also talked about the prevalent purda customs among Muslim women and other issues of Muslim women. She also emphasized on community service for Muslim women to raise awareness.
Prof. Basu said the chair’s remarks, in which she focused on the significance of the seminar in how it can help in identifying the area of research to be dealt with. She advised researchers that they should follow pin-point research method to carry out research on these areas. She said, empowerment of Muslim women should be looked upon alone as it is closely associated to the nation.