25th Aug, 2006
Last night I was talking to nafisaben. She was telling me about darbar women. Darbars are apparently some sort of caste in gujarat (where else?) that are particularly barbaric towards their women.
nafisaben was telling me of a time when they went into a darbar house. they are extremely proud and maintain vast houses and will never show their poverty even if it exists. when they went in, the women weren't allowed to come out since their faces could not be shown to strange men. they had to look out through a crack in the door to see what was happening. then nafisaben and the other women went into the room and talked to the women. even then, they had to talk in whispers. apparently, if their voices would be heard outside, they would be beaten. these women were allowed to leave their houses but under strict constraints. a caretaker would have to accompany them holding an umbrella with a veil around it which they would hold over the women so as to cover them as they walked. women who were driven, even by drivers who had been in the family for decades, drove in cars with curtains in the backseat hiding the women. the drivers had never seen their faces and only knew them by their voice.
shocking as it was to hear these stories, i couldn't help but thinking that these traditions had allegedly seeped into some of these communities via their contact with muslims. in the muslim community, suffocating purdah norms are so common as to be taken for granted. not to mention some of the other accompanying horrors - the honor killings, the female genital mutilation, and in some cases, complete absence of human rights for women.
a note about the female genital mutilation. i just learned (via nafisaben - who else?) that this practise is still common among bohras. we are the only community that does this outside some of the african muslim communities. i have to find out more about this.
the sad thing is that i have absolutely no idea and no inclination to address the evils among my own community, be it the numerous gender issues in the bohra community or the issues of dowry that still prevail in my newly adopted delhi community. i am afraid of ostracism. yes, i said it. now i have to come to terms with it. if i'm so afraid of raising these issues in my own community, how can i possibly even begin to imagine the horrors of standing up for women's rights in villages where the women have to face the prospect of being completely rejected by all whom they love. how can i begin to comprehend the courage of the countless women who have faced that risk, and all too often suffered the harshest of punishments for it?
i feel like a hypocrite talking about human rights.
after my outburst at nishant yesterday, i have been doing a lot of introspection. why do i always lash out at him for being biased against muslims - why am i so touchy on this subject? is it a sense of guilt that i abandoned that community for its flaws instead of staying in and fighting them? i still can, i guess, but all these years i have managed to put so much distance between myself and the bohra community that nobody can accuse me of being a bohra anymore. i don't have any legitimacy left in the community, and no hope of finding anyone who will listen to anything i say.
excuses, i know. again, the sense of hypocrisy builds.