Friday, 28 March 2014

Desertifying Kashmir

Questions that our posterity will ask
Posterity and in fact the current generation will ask us few difficult questions. As parents I don’t think we have any answers. A few questions and issues they will raise I discuss today.
What we have made of Human Resource Management in Kashmir? Once it was not a big problem. Take the case of log winters, handicrafts and extensive local manufacturing of important woolen, matting and other commodities in most houses. Neither women nor the elderly people were jobless. Today even our youth are unemployed. And most of the jobs are in sectors that are not really productive or contributing in real sense to solving local problems. Previously it was almost all green. Just take the example of constructing house. A few decades back it cost almost nothing. Only certain patience. In the first year bricks were prepared. In the next year other requirements were gradually completed. Then labour was mostly either free or community based. Hardly anyone was hired. Hardly anything was paid. Roofing material was not necessarily imported. Very small of flight of capital and hardly any damage to environment from mud houses was noticed. And the houses were, for all practical purposes, strong, comfortable, warm in winter and cool in summers. Traditional houses along with their grace and comfort – and should I say symbolism as well – are fast disappearing. What has come as a replacement is neither beautiful – though it appears so to those who have no idea of beauty of traditional architecture and its symbolism to which our houses previously had somewhat approximated.
Today our houses are built to compensate our imaginary requirements for identity supposed to be defined by size and newest building materials including important roofing material. The functional and beauty and symbolic aspects are not given due consideration. If you ask anyone what defines traditional Islamic architecture and informs a Muslim culture that ours is one will be, most probably greeted with silence. Do we know that traditionally in Muslim cultures we used to have certain space inside a house that was not walled and exposed directly to sky as is still seen in certain mosques? Do we know there were guest rooms that were almost like hotels without payment for guests? Traditionally we are not allowed to even inquire regarding whereabouts and purpose of visit till three days. Till three days anyone can be a God’s guest in our houses. Today our practice is, generally speaking, not to invite guests for nights and ideally let them stay in our parks and don’t let them enter in. Now no wonder that guests don’t come. Guests disappear with the age of individualism. Today guests are seen mostly for few hours on formal occasions. Gone are the days when we used to visit relatives for weeks, not just days or hours.
We can get to the bygone values though not to bygone institutions. We can fight for restoring community spirit. We can contemplate legislating against building new houses. We can go for flat system. We can teach our new generation that we can’t afford new houses and further destruction of land. We can build mosques in mud. We can experiment with all kinds of houses that are compatible with ecology. We can make an attempt to teach, to new generations, virtues and wisdom in traditional patterns of living. Kashmir was traditionally known for hospitality. Is it there today?
Do we ever consider what legacy we are leaving for posterity? Suppose our children ask us what we are leaving them with, what we have added to the legacy of forefathers, what values we have been striving for? We have destroyed much of the best we had received from our ancestors. This includes environment, such values as hospitality and many shared spaces. We have thrown overboard everything that valued in a culture centred on belief in God and taking seriously the other as an image of God. We had very few beggars. Hardly any charlatans in business of faith healing and occult practices but spiritual personalities that commanded and deserved reverence.
If we can’t add anything from our own we can at least attempt to consolidate what we had received and don’t let it to be destroyed further. We have no right to marry and produce children if we are leaving them with a desert–moral, ecological and spiritual desert–that contemporary Kashmir is fast becoming.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Camus:Faith And Literature

He lacerates our ego, decimates self righteous attitude, and rips apart all pretensions
Reading Camus’ The Fall is like consenting to be operated without anaesthesia. Nothing exposes better our moral weaknesses, our complacency, our guilt. Reading his The Plague calls for almost superhuman courage to experience life as plague without shrinking from responsibility to ameliorate it. His The Stranger has a hero who doesn’t feel about anything including the death of his mother thus critiquing modern alienation. Camus lacerates our ego – self righteous attitude and pretensions. Be ready for soul hammering in the works of Camus. One can emerge much more humble and compassionate after baptism in the fire of his works. He sees through the sickness, the cancer of the soul of modern man. There are dangers too, however. We have to be respectful but critical. Great lessons in ethics need to be learnt but corroding skepticism following from failed mystic adventure and dogmatic rationalism and arrogant humanism and misreading of religion has to be resisted.
One of the most influential and beloved writers of the 20th century, Albert Camus’ work is a response to Nietzsche’s  diagnosis of the malaise of modern age – The Death of God. For him the key problem is: can one be a saint without God? He was troubled by seeming injustice including innocent suffering in the world and asserted that he can’t accept any scheme of things which required putting innocent children to torture. He argued that only serious philosophical problem is that of suicide. He argued against suicide seeing it as a cowardly act and instead argued for defying the absurdity of life. He asked for passionate love of the world against what he considered illusory hope in the next world. Let us love the world with all our hearts and minds, he counseled. Camus attempted to create ethics for an atheist existentialist and he has worldwide following though of late he has become less relevant. However he is an inspiration for many Kashmiri students and scholars and is cited as influence for their turn against religion. He is immensely powerful, lucid and beautiful as a writer. His lyricism and charm, his humane concerns, his fight against death punishment and totalitarianism, his advocacy of human dignity and nobility in the face of absurdity all have contributed to his appeal. One can’t but admire many of his virtues both as a man and as a writer.
Camus’ fundamental assertion in his philosophical work The Myth of Sisyphus is that “absurdity” is the key description of the universe as man experiences it. The absurd born of the confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world must not be forgotten. The absurd must ever be kept alive. This is the fundamental tenet of absurdist philosophy. Carrying the absurd logic to its conclusion he lists the implications as follows:"…a total absence of hope (which has nothing to do with despair), a continual rejection (which must not be confused with renunciation), and a conscious dissatisfaction." For Camus it is evil and injustice of the creation that entitles man to revolt against whatever power planned and organized this universe. Camus’ problem is to search for human happiness and a response worthy of man in the face of incomprehensible and alien universe. The eternal injustice revealed in the confrontation of man and his human condition could only be resisted; it can’t be accepted or tolerated or changed. It is bleak tragedy. His revolt is primarily "against the sky rather than against the world." The following dialogue captures the problematique of absurd man that Camus saw as his hero. 
Caesonia : You can’t prevent the sky from being the sky, or a fresh young face from ageing, or a man’s heart from growing cold.
Caligula [with rising excitement]: I want … I want to drown the sky in the sea, to infuse ugliness  with beauty, to wring a laugh form pain.
For Camus salvation in an absurd universe could be possible only in knowledge, in a sort of gnosis which negates the absurd. But that knowledge doesn't come at the rational philosophical plane. But he is adamant like a hardcore rationalist in his demand for solving the riddle and mystery of Existence:
"I want everything to be explained to me or nothing. And the reason is impotent when it hears this cry from the heart. The world itself, whose single meaning I don't understand, is but a vast irrational. If one could only say just once: 'all is clear' all would be saved."
Camus asks “…Is there something behind the wet skies?”  Though his head refused to entertain any such thing his heart did feel that there is a secret meaning to everything. However the problem with modern way of life is that it refuses to have trucks with this secret. It seeks to avoid encounter with the Light, the knowledge that negates modern man’s cities and his comforts. Modern man has chosen to live without the sacred, to be earthly and true to the dust of earth and Camus though inwardly unhappy over this choice, over tremendous uglification in Europe that has exiled Helen, chooses to be with modern man, with all his illusions and untruth and his blindness to the world above that alone contains answers to all his problems, all his sorrows.
Camus’s narrator Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in The Fall notes that what future historians will say of us.  A single sentence will suffice for modern man: "he fornicated and read the papers.” This is Camus’ estimate of our times.  Indeed modern man has no heroism, no dignity, no beauty, no charity, no love to boost off.  He has knowledge and therefore newspapers suffice for him. He doesn’t know what is love, love eternal that Jesus worshipped as God. He knows only ugly lust and a poor image of that love of which Plato speaks and of which mystics speak. What makes Camus and Beckett pessimistic is the wretched state of modern man who distrusts all claims from traditional philosophers and mystics that love is eternal and fails to replace traditional God with his manufactured idols. Camus shows absurdity and its wrecks. He resolutely fights against despairing consequences of nihilism which is a presupposition of modern thought that he largely takes for granted. He, as a philosopher of immanence attempts to show how man faces the world, creates values and chooses to live when deprived of God. Although he stands for the forlorn abandoned man in the face of the “incomprehensible” and apparently indifferent if not hostile world he fails to convince by his logic and rhetoric. We see Camus opening to the sacred or transcendence in his reflections on music, on art, on beauty despite his antitranscendence rhetoric. His youthful passionate lyricism is a move towards transcendence. The note he left beside his sleeping wife hints at this.
Camus sees himself as a stranger in the world and laments that nothing can lift the veil and make it familiar. Indeed scientific and rational knowledge will not make the world familiar. The material world, the realm of manifestation doesn’t contain its principle of existence in itself.
            For Camus heavens don't respond to the cry of an afflicted soul. From the Eastern perspective it is the self’s or subject's or the mind's demand to be spared the encounter with its own nothingness or voidness that really is the problem. If we are frightened by the infinite silence of the stars it is because we fear to see squarely nothingness at the heart of being, the emptiness of all empirical or phenomenal things, the illusion of ego. We fear to have a dialogue with the silence that was before the word and in which alone is our salvation. In fact the vision of God that dispels all darkness and fear for good is the renunciation of all chatter, all sounds, all desire to be heard, to be anything. A faint echo of this experience is heard in Lear who attains the sublime tragic understanding when he escapes in the dark rainy night with nothing to shield him, with all worldly attachments gone, naked before the vast silence of the heavens. Peace is only got by returning home, to our Origin in the dark abyss of Godhead, Serenity of God or heaven is the serenity of nonexistence that was before we came and that will be after we are not.
Camus’ problem lies in Cartesian heritage that divorced reason and intellect, mind and heart, body and soul and ignored symbolism and metaphysics that makes scripture perfectly comprehensible. He failed to note that theology is autology (science of Self) and that art that he championed was parasitic on the sacred he rejected. God can’t be judged because He is Being and Beyond-Being and not a cosmic policeman. The sacred can’t be mocked. Neither can it be ignored. It is our very life. God is the Meaning of life. Man can’t live without meaning. Camus affirmed this meaning despite his mind’s failure to clearly articulate it. He worshipped God’s fragmentary images in the form of women and other beautiful forms and desire. That is why his lyricism, his love, his affirmative spirit and his passion for beauty are no match for that of Rumi.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Faith and Philosophy: A Case for Happy Marriage

Can Philosophy be summoned in the court of Religion?
The thesis that philosophy and religion are antithetical is historically wrong, conceptually flawed and religiously unacceptable and philosophically a dogmatic assertion that forecloses open ended nature of rational inquiry. It implies that all great philosophers that include almost any great name you think from Phythaogoras  to Wittgenstein rejected religion in the name of philosophy, Muslim philosophers including Ibn Sina, Suharwardi, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Rushd and Iqbal were hypocrites when they affirmed faith, there is no such thing as Prophetic philosophy and great works of people like Corbin are rubbish, theology is not a rational discourse, Sufism that has been a bridge between philosophy and religion doesn’t exist and such people as Ibn Arabi were building castles in the air. We have to refute arguments of such giants as Augustine, Aquinas, Farabi and Ibn Rushd to assert the thesis of antithesis. Leaving alone ancients from all climes – India to Greece – who never separated religion and philosophy, even none of the great modern philosophers including Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Bradley, Whitehead, William James, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida could be characterized as antithetical to religion/spirituality in the name of philosophy. We have to reduce countless volumes explicating symbolic or analogic or anagogic interpretations of scriptures to nothing and go to hell with the literalists. Intellectual content of Sufism is hardly distinguishable from traditional philosophy. In fact Sufism is metaphysics and needs to be distinguished from purely speculative/rational attempts to conceptualize the supra-phenomenal. Etymologically philosophy is not wisdom but love of wisdom and Prophets claim to bring wisdom. So philosophy is a method for achieving what the prophets achieve directly. And philosophers have, generally speaking ( a few exceptions only prove the rule), acknowledged prophets in their own ways. This is true of even Nietzsche who called himself AntiChrist but paid such a glowing tribute to the Christ and invoked Zarathustra, a prophet according to one reading, to be his mouthpiece to expound his own philosophy.
Leaving other arguments I focus today on the understanding of the term philosophy in ancient or classical and medieval times to argue that the thesis of antithesis is subscribed to by only a few modern thinkers who are mostly on the margins. Humanity has traditionally celebrated happy marriage of religion and philosophy and its greatest thinkers have been both religionists/theologians/ mystics and philosophers simultaneously. There is antithesis between rationalism and religion, not rationality and religion and rationalism is a modern heresy of philosophy based on colossal ignorance of intellect that traditionally grounds reason. For perennialists philosophy in the primordial sense of the term prepares one for death and assimilation to God as Plato said and is not a rational logical abstract discipline only and is allied to gnosis, a way of life or realization of the good. It is not a prerogative of ratio or mental faculty of reason but of nous, the supraindividual universal faculty of intellect. It is not a mere theoretical rational inquiry but a realization, intellection or noetic vision that transcends subject-object duality and demands something like ethical discipline that Plato argued for. Logos of which Plato, Neoplatonism and the perennialists speak is not renderable exclusively as reason or discursive reasoning (dianoia). “It could mean divine speech as well as noetic apprehension of the first indemonstrable and sacred principles, archetypes.” Philosophy in the traditional Orphic-Pythagorean sense is wisdom and love combined in a moral and intellectual purification in order to reach the “likeness to god.” It is contemplation of Beauty and Good. This is attainable by gnosis. The Greek word nous covers, as Uzdavinys, the editor of The Golden Chain, has noted, both spirit and intellect (intellectus, ‘aql) of Medieval Christian and Islamic lexicon. Platonic philosophy, understood as a spiritual and contemplative way of life leading to illumination or enlightenment. For Chinese “The purpose of philosophy is to enable a man, as a man, to be a man, not some particular kind of man.” Chinese ethics is meant to fashion this man and this ideal man is one “with sageliness within and kingliness without.” This is argued to be what Plato called the philosopher-king. Islam envisages the Prophet as teacher of wisdom (hikmah). Certain Muslim philosophers are traditionally referred to as sages and all Muslim philosophers were pious believers at least.  Ghazali’s inveighing against the philosophers not withstanding (didn’t reject, however, logic and legitimate rational enquiry) who unwarrantedly wishes to reserve for the Sufis the monopoly of spiritual knowledge as if, as Schuon observes, “faith and piety, in combination with intellectual gifts and with grace – didn’t provide a sufficient basis for pure intellection.” It is to the credit of Muslim philosophers – as has been noted by many scholars – that the great Greeks Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus could be integrated. Indian view of the philosopher hardly needs to be reiterated. It is axiomatic that only sages are philosophers. Tolumin has also observed in his Philosophers: East and West that only sage can be a philosopher in oriental civilizations and in modern Western philosophy this is not a required qualification and even ideally it is a hindrance. Schuon suggests to reserve the name of philosophers for sages and to describe rationalists for profane thinkers. Philosophy, according to the best of the Greeks, is, as Uzdavinys puts it,  to express, by means of reason certainties “seen” or “lived” by the immanent Intellect. Plato has maintained that the philosophers should think independently of received opinion. But, as Schuon notes, he refers to Intellection and not to logic alone. This is in sharp contrast to Descartes who reached such a conclusion from the starting point of systematic doubt and thus for him philosophy is synonymous only with rationalism and scepticism. This is, according to Schuon a first suicide of intelligence inaugurated by Pyrrho and others. Perennialists reject the belief of modernists that philosophy is an abstract philosophical discourse based on rationalistic scientific method and its methodically obtained “truths.” 
Contrary to the prevalent view of modern historians of science and philosophy, the ancient Hellenes (whom modern considers their forefathers, considered themselves to be students of much older Oriental civilizations. “Plato paraphrased Orpheus everywhere” as Olympiodorus asserted. Platonists believed in the revelation given to the ancient sages and theologians, i.e., to divinely inspired poets and hierophants. The primordial revelation was viewed as unchangeable; there could be nothing “new” regarding metaphysics and divine truths. According to Celsus, Plato never claimed to have discovered anything new. Plotinus also didn’t claim (Uzdavinys xviii). Not only Pythagoras, Archytas, Socrates and Plato, but also later philosophers such as Ammonius, Saccas, Plotinus, Porphry, Iamblicus and Syrians … belonged to the revelatory and soteriological tradition of philosophy”( Uzdavinys xxvi). 
The relation between religion and traditional metaphysics is largely forgotten today in departments of philosophy as is the truth that theology is autology (science of Self). Doesn’t philosophy treat the the question of the Self? According to perennialists there is no ground whatever upon which all men can be in absolute agreement, excepting that of metaphysics. And this metaphysics is the basis and the norm of all religious formulations according to them. However even though the perennialists emphasize ultimate identity of religion and metaphysics they are acutely aware of the respective differences both at doctrinal and practical level as A. K. Coomaraswamy in his great essay “On the Pertinence of Philosophy” (a must reading for those who confound philosophy with rationalist scepticism and religion with dogmatic belief system or fairy tale account) has explicated: 
Broadly speaking, the distinction is that of Christianity from Gnosticism, Sunni from Shia doctrine, Ramanuja from Samkara, of the will from the intellect, participation (bhjakti) from gnosis (jnana), or knowledge of (avidya) from knowledge-as (vidya). As regards the Way, the distinction is one of consecration from initiation, and of passive from active integration; and as regards the End, of assimilation (tadakarata) from identification (tadbhabva). 
According to Coomaraswamy the task of philosophy today is to understand comparative religion! So who says they are antithetical? To maintain antithesis thesis one needs to refute the best of Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Muslims, medieval scholastics, mystical philosophers and major modern  philosophers and the sophisticated band of perennialist metaphysicians.  There is a case against dogmatic rationalism from religious belief but not against philosophy and philosophy can’t be identified with rationalism. It is literalist religion that fears philosophy and it is modern rationalist or empiricist epistemology that hates religion.  
All things must finally be judged in the court of philosophy. In the darkness of life we are confronted with our only light source that helps to find our way is right use of reason or philosophy. Philosophy may counsel us to use the lamp of faith to move further forward.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Debating Shaikhul Alam(r.a)

We hail Shaikhul Alam as our patron saint, as Alamdar but there are huge academic debates that have generated much heat and little light. There are some who contest the term Shaikhul Alam and favour Nund Rishi. There are others who spend much energy on proving Lalla’s Saivist or Islamic credentials. There is huge confusion on what is authentic text of our Sheikh. There are editions of Shaikh’s poetry that reflect compiler’s ideological orientation. There are debates that seem to be never ending because wrongly framed on Arabic/Persian/Sanskrit origin of Reshiyyat. Some have an agenda of projecting Lalla as the saint of Kashmir while for some it is debatable if she existed at all. There is much loose talk and conceptual confusion in the use of such terms as mysticism, Sufism and Reshiyyat in writings on Shaikhul Alam and his legacy or Kashmiri’s spiritual landscape. I propose to turn to scholars of perennialist school to clarify key terms and accordingly explicate the convergence and divergence between Reshiyyatand Mysticism. As mysticism is not the right description either for understanding Indian traditions or such traditions as Buddhism or Saivism that preceded Islam in Kashmir or for Sufism that took over after the advent of Islam in Kashmir and what is called Reshiyyat is not a species of mysticism we better abandon such a term while explicating Kashmir’s past or present religio-spiritual landscape. Reshism as a term may be replaced by another term Reshiyyat to distance it from connotations of the suffix “ism” that implies an ideological or exclusivist stance. Reshiyyat is an adaptation of traditional metaphysics in Kashmir. Shaikhul Alam should be seen as a contributor to this project of adaptation of Perennial Philosophy and not be described as mystic. His own description of himself as Reshi, understood in accepted sense in indigenous traditions and read in perennialist metaphysical language is to be respected. Tasawwuf that Shaikhul Alam championed is to be read not as a species of mysticism but esoteric content of integral tradition and seen in light of Metaphysics instead of theology that has often been the case in modern writings on it.  Keeping the framework developed by great modern metaphysician-Sufis such as Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon we need to translate Ad-Deen as Tradition and see Reshiyyyat as Kashmiriu adaptation of Tradition and accordingly put in nperspective different religions that have been shaping Kashmiri spiritual landscape.  We will then appreciate perennialist arguments against characterizing Reshiyyyat or Kashmiri Sufi poetry as syncretist, as simply a species of mysticism, as something that can be approached in purely historical terms, as cryptobuddhist adaptation of Islam, as exclusivist theological-moralistic school, as simply a socio-cultural movement.
Our academia, our critics, our religious scholars all have not so far been trained in metaphysics that is the key to Shaikh’s thought, that explains how Ahmed Rishi is the First Rishi but that doesn’t mean Rishhiyat began 1400years ago and that explains why the Shaikh could describe Lalla as Avatar and write magnificent praise of Buddha. The Shaikh is an icon of Kashmiri culture because he keeps first things first and holds fast to the transcendence of Spirit, of the One, of Metaphysics. So far the Shaikh has been read primarily in religious or mystical terms and that explains why confusion prevails over key issues. We need to understand him in light of the science of First Principles or Metaphysics.
Such issues and debates as Islam was radical break from PreIslamic traditions in Kashmir – the thesis supported by ideological exclusivists, religion of Lalla, orthodoxy of Sufi poets,  supposed marginization of Buddhist-Saivist heritage with the advent of Islam, “Islamist” verses vs.  “syncretist” verses in Shaikhul Alam’s poetry,  Budshah’s supposed betrayal of  orthodox  Islam, antinominan tendencies in certain spiritual paths and contours of interfaith dialogue all need proper tools provided by Metaphysics for understanding.
The question is how can we teach metaphysics – though that would help only to a certain level and not substitute direct experience – in absence of philosophy department in university or failure to inculcate philosophical culture by other institutions in  Kashmir? All these and related questions could be tackled if we shift the focus from historical, theological, and philosophical approaches which have hitherto dominated the scholarly scholarship to transhistorical and metaphysical one.
Reshi is defined in moral-spiritual terms and not legalistic terms by The Shaikh. The path calls for “Consecrating life to the search for Truth.”  One who “tighten the belly to learn (the virtues of) patience/Gives up his ego/ Contemplates Him in seclusion” could be eligible for the lofty station of the Reshi.  Shaikhul Alam, identifying true Muslim with the Reshi explicates attributes of him.  “Who longs to live by the sweat of one’s mind/ Who shows fortitude in provocation/who shares meals with the hungry / who is obsessed with the idea of removing huger, who scorns anger, greed, illusion, arrogance and self conceit.”  The Reshi reaches arsh by the load of his nobler actions and then only “the grace of the Omnipotent embraces him.”  The Reshi is one “who remains humble despite his substance and sits very low on the wheel of life.”  Consuming himself in the fire that the kalima generates and realizing the existential unity he finds the Eternal and transcends space.   The Reshi, the sage, the self realized one, the inspired poet, is the image of primordial man, the Perfect Man or Adam.  He has no history because he transcends history. The Light of Muhammad(s.a.w) was there before the heavens and the earth were there.  And the first Reshi is said to be Ahmad Reshi (SAW).  And Ahmad, from traditional metaphysical and mystical viewpoints is Logos, the Pole of Existence, the Principle of Manifestation.  He brings into consciousness the archetype of God.
If I sound too abstract or technical it is no fault of mine. We need precise technical language to put things in perspective that have divide Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims over Lalla and that have been appropriated by fundamentalists or political ideologies for their own interests. Kashmir needs precision in thinking first to help overcome ambiguity and confusion on issues of identity and politics.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Violence against Women

Questions for State Women’s Commission

We have one of the most violent societies with respect to women. All of us know cases of violence against women. All of us are responsible in some measure. Have we participated in any movement that targets this issue? Aren’t we violent in our own homes? Do we recognize her rights, her right to be herself, her right to choose modest way of dressing, her right to pursue education and travel to fulfil her dreams, and many more such rights? To put my case clearly let me state some of the lesser known points for consideration of the State, State’s women commission, NGOs, religious authorities who can make the difference.
Islamic law doesn’t oblige daughters-in-law to:
·         Do domestic chores in husband’s family.
·         Accept any dictation regarding preparation of meals, washing of clothes from either husband or mother in law or any member of husband’s family.
·          Share her salary with husband or his family.
·         Request permission for staying in her parent’s home from mother-in-law.
·         Stay in the house of husband he shares with his parents/brothers (though it is not intended to promote nuclear families but only to protect women from violence when she demands separate house. The women are ideally enjoined to take her new home as her own and treat her mother in law as mother and all this could be realized if she didn’t feel alienated, intimidated or otherwise harassed and dictated and were treated on the principles of love and mutual respect. This point is not intended to further disrupt already fragile domestic harmony and privilege rights over duties but only to foreground innumerable cases of violation of fundamental right to life and freedom of women in our socio-economic set up which Constitution guarantees everyone. I subscribe to the view that Gandhi emphasized that there are no rights but only duties, and from duties well done, issue all rights. The husband and his mother and father don’t do their duties, assume their daughter in law is their servant expected to do domestic works etc. and how can rights for them follow. Any way it is not their legal right that their daughter in law serves them. They could win the heart of daughter- in- law so that she serves them with all her mind and heart. The daughter-in-law is not supposed to woo husband’s family into confidence if she doesn’t like this. She can. Although law may not require, ihsan warrants putting the other before the self. Domestic chores done with love constitute a joy. Mother-in-law treated as mother gives a joy that no nuclear family or individualism can give. Joint family, properly regulated, is closer to the Islamic ideal of cooperative community centric living.
Keeping in view structural violence and disparity in our system of mores, it is suggested:
1         The State should pass a bill that legislates against demanding any gift in terms of jewellery or costly cloths from girls during marriage process. Any person (husband, his parents or any family member of husband’s parent’s family) demanding or accepting (which often supposes covert or overt pressure from other’s side) any gift in terms of jewellery, clothes, cash, car) should be strongly punishable by law in the form of very heavy fine that victimized girl should be entitled to. There are innumerable cases of suicide and delay in marriages because the would-be bride is unable to arrange heavy gifts for her new family.
2         If women’s commission is unable to press for such legislations and their strict implementation it would be interpreted as complicity with essentially exploiting socio-cultural institutions. It means vast majority of women shall continue to suffer for no sins of their own and women’s commission is a mute spectator only. The commission must seek a space in State Media for discussing these problems. It is the society which is guilty for not taking notice or action against thousand and one forms of violation against women’s rights from the day they born and especially from the moment she is engaged in wedlock.
3         Women, generally speaking, are prevented from inheriting property. Various excuses are given by her kith and kin to prevent it. It must be legislated that they give written consent in the court of law while adjudicating any inheritance/land transfer case from parents to children. There must be created some protection in nikah nama or other important document.
4         Some new document be introduced for checking abuses that should be binding on every couple. Or may be existing Nikah Nama may include provisions like the following: All the parties viz., husband, wife, parents of both fill an affidavit which declares that:
§  No jewellery/cash/vehicle/costly cloths/refrigerator etc. will be or has been accepted either as a gift or in any other form from bride or her family. An oath statement to this effect should be signed.
§  No feast has been served from bride’s side for any kind of baraat accompanying bridegroom. Except simple qahwa or tea or juice nothing should be served. Islam enjoins that bride’s guardians or parents need not spend a penny on any such function and these functions are to be financed by bridegroom’s family. The parents of the girl can give her whatever they wish as dowry but then that is personal property of the bride and not of bridegroom or his family.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Revisiting the Classics on Gender Discrimination

Without confounding any rights movement for feminism and without commenting on feminism as such I want to note the key statements of certain important texts that state the case of gender discrimination so well.

There is a very profound observation by Iqbal; he is troubled by the problem of women’s oppression and sees hardly any neat solution. Today it should be contrasted with the confidence with which people comment on the question and assert that they have all the answers, that if we could enforce certain laws the problem will be over. They bring the sacred authority of Islam to clinch the case as if Islam is not an open enquiry and call for using reason to solve our problems. They think we can bank upon clear, concrete legal opinions that need simply to be implemented missing to note that neither Capitalism nor the State nor the violence that is peculiar to Modernity were there 1400 years before, so calling for far more nuanced understanding of gender discrimination and Islam’s position on it. The fact that our Prophet (SAW) was so anxious even at death bed about the problems women face, the fact that even Hazrat Umar(R.A) was not comfortable with suddenly found liberation by women in Medina (Fatima Merenessi has made her important study on this question and the issue of veil calling for revisiting history of patriarchy in Islam and distinguishing between sacred and patriarchal history), that women in Medina were active component of its productive activity or economy and we debate the question is salaried job for women unlawful in principle, the fact that there are so few women in the history of Islam that could compare with the likes of Ghazzali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldoon and Iqbal implying failure to provide congenial environment to groom their intellectual selves, the fact that men have been so anxious about proper veiling of women despite no clear scriptural warrant for including face in purdah, all point out that there are issues to debate, interpretations to scrutinize, power games to contest and making heard loudly the voice of justice that Islam by definition is.  

People talk about the pain of exile. But few note that it is a destiny for most women. Women are homeless. They have only houses. They have parental home that is not theirs really. Their new home is husband’s or his parents’ home and her house. It takes many years to have her own house if she succeeds in getting one. What a predicament it is to live in perpetual uncertainty. Her parents have thrown the burden away, in a way, the day they have married her off. Her new home can never be her home in the sense that she can never be sure if someday it pleases her husband to disown her, to tell her that she can’t stay with him.
Without confounding any rights movement for feminism and without commenting on feminism as such I want to note the key statements of certain important texts that state the case of gender discrimination so well.
Engels in his The Origins of Family, Private Property and the State connected gender violence to class. As women are physically and psychologically weaker (made of a stuff that is designed to realize finer, more beautiful things and nuances of life) men found it easy to oppress them, to convert them into virtual slaves. As might is right, women had no choice. This account has been deservedly criticized on many grounds but the fact that women suffer violence because men care only for their self interest and have hardly any scruples to see them as objects of libido, as objects that appease their instinct for domination. But here the problem arises: to what court can women appeal to get justice? To answer this we need to turn to value centric discourse that religion is. Muslim Feminists have found that in Islam.
Simon de Beauvoir in her classic The Second Sex  observed “In truth, to go for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different. Perhaps these differences are superficial, perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that they do most obviously exist.” And  “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. ... And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called ‘the sex’, by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.” She further complains: “They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – more firmly than they are to other women.” “Legislators, priests, philosophers, writers, and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of woman is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth.” “Since ancient times satirists and moralists have delighted in showing up the weaknesses of women. “In proving woman’s inferiority, the anti-feminists then began to draw not only upon religion, philosophy, and theology, as before, but also upon science – biology, experimental psychology, etc. At most they were willing to grant ‘equality in difference’ to the other sex. That profitable formula is most significant; it is precisely like the ‘equal but separate’ formula of the Jim Crow laws aimed at the North American Negroes.”
Another classic work is from Urdu literature Laila kae Khutoot that among other points makes a strong case against the argument commonly rehearsed that women need to be veiled because man can’t control desire. The Quran demanded modesty and lowering of gaze from both men and women. Veiling as done in the subcontinent can’t be elevated as a norm. The point has been well made by many traditional Muslim scholars including Albani, not to mention modernists such as Amir Ali and Fazlur Rahman.
Gender violence is logical implication of patriarchal system that has forgotten metaphysical meaning of symbolism of Adam and Eve and masculine pole of Logos and feminine pole, of women as soul, of individuation as proper integration of masculine and feminine principles that constitute every human being. Back home if we note it is painful record. Women are mostly denied property rights. Daughters –in-law are treated as objects. Seeking to live in a separate home that is her right recognized by Islam is covertly or overtly discouraged. She is not given the love – or somehow she doesn’t feel receiving it – in her new house. I hardly know any women who can resist tears if one has sympathetic ears to listen to her story.  One can write a short story on every women I encounter who has stories to tell of her pain, exile, discrimination, mechanical labour, denial of opportunities. Kafka would have got perfect stories in Kashmir where the reigning philosophy is “phatwan waad” – a term coined by a brilliant teacher of philosophy from Kashmir who explained it in these words:  family members and neighbours feeling the others as the Other yet who is there to stay leading to suffocation, a pathology of joint family system and pathological individualism struggling to be born in a transition economy.
Regarding domestic chores one remark may suffice: she is condemned to domestic chores that would kill  a man if were to do it. Hell is repetition, mechanical repeating of any activity without involvement of our soul in it. How can soul be involved in domestic chores is a question that our scholars have to answer.
One can’t imagine the plight of Hardy’s Tess. Most of women I know in Kashmir are sisters of Tess in suffering. Condemned, exiled, mentally if not physically violated.
Imagine the Last Day and God asking men what they have made of the last requests that the dying Prophet made with regard to giving women their rights or respecting them. I, for myself, would pray for sparing examination as I know no defense or apology on my part will be adequate.
I once overheard a women being dragged for treatment to mental hospital as saying “I will be okay if my son once said me mummy. He has been told by husband’s family not to.” Women are, generally speaking, denied love they long for in a family atmosphere. It might be retorted that daand-i maar chuni kenh bozaan and thus women are to be blamed for many things. I don’t want to deny that sometimes miseducation and other prejudices or attitudes of them may partly explain tragedy women face but today I wanted to focus on the other face of the coin – our responsibility as qawamoon who are to provide for women and be truly guardians. Let us identify ideological complicity with any problematic ideology or discourse on gender from both the right and the left.  Let us stand with those who fight against gender discrimination and violence against women.