If this is what secularism means,give me Hindutva

By Tavleen Singh 

The Dar-ul-Uloom’s fatwa last week condemning Imrana to a marital life of unmitigated hell and absolving her rapist father-in-law comes as no surprise to me. It comes as no surprise because last year I had the dubious pleasure of visiting the Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband and seeing for myself what this Islamic school that inspired the Taliban is really like. 

It was this inspiration that caused the Taliban to execute women in Kabul’s infamous football field for crimes they often did not know they had committed. It was this inspiration from Deoband’s interpretation of the shariyat that caused the Taliban to ban education for women and to punish them for such supposed misdemeanors as wearing white socks and shoes that made a noise when they walked. 

Now, Deoband rules that Imrana, a mother of five children, of Charthawal village, district Muzaffarnagar, in UP is haraam for her husband, Noor Ilahi because she dared protest publicly about being raped by her father-in-law, Ali Mohammad. 

It is typical of the Deobandi interpretation of the laws of Islam that they have not condemned the rapist. And, if you were following the story you would have noticed that the bearded maulvis who expounded on the subject on television hinted that they did not believe she could have been raped. “Taali donon haathon sey bajti hai,” said one bearded monster with a smug smile on his face. 

As a Muslim woman Imrana showed extraordinary courage in going public at all because under Islamic law rape can only be punished if four male witnesses exist. They never do. Her only hope now is that the normal laws of the land are implemented and her father-in-law charged and punished under them. Her personal life is ruined because her wimp of a husband has already announced that he will obey the fatwa from Deoband. 

There are wider implications of Imrana’s story and they should concern us all. What should concern us is that the Dar-ul-uloom will get away with its outrageous interference in the law. What should concern us even more is that the Dar-ul-uloom should exist at all on the soil of India. If you are shocked that I can say something so politically incorrect let me describe for you what this institution of Islamic teaching looks like. 

During the general election in May last year I happened to drive past Deoband on my way to cover election stories in UP and since I had heard of how the Taliban took their inspiration from the Dar-ul-Uloom decided that it would be worth my while to stop and take a look at this influential school. 

Deoband is a shabby, little hick town with a dusty, disorderly collection of half-built shops as its main bazaar and its shabbiness makes the magnificence of the Dar-ul-Uloom even more startling. But, I go too fast. I drove through the dusty bazaar, along a gutted road to arrive at a pair of tall, black wrought iron gates. Beyond these gates I could see several fine, white-washed Islamic buildings and beyond them a magnificent mosque that seemed almost bigger than the town of Deoband. At the entrance was a white-bearded gentleman in traditional Islamic clothing — a long kurta over loose pajamas that barely reached his calves. I asked him if I could meet the chief Maulana and after several minutes on the telephone to someone to whom he conveyed my request he said I could not meet him because a) I did not have an appointment and b) I was not veiled. 

This irritated me and I pointed out that this was India and not Saudi Arabia and in any case I was not Muslim and that if the Maulana was so keen on purdah then perhaps he should be in it. 

At this point a group of bearded students walked by and asked what was going on. When I explained they said I should go to the main office and make an appointment to come back another time. Knowing that I would never have any desire to come back to the Dar-ul-Uloom I decided that as I was there I could at least look around the famed seminary. 

So, despite the protests of the white bearded watchman I strolled onto the grounds and found myself in a little bit of Saudi Arabia. All the men I saw were bearded and in Islamic clothes, a small bazaar on the campus sold books only in Urdu and Arabic and when I stopped to talk to a group of young men they said (in Urdu) that they could not talk to me because they spoke only Arabic and I had been rude about their Maulana. I never found out what they considered rude but thought them not just rude but nauseatingly fanatical. 

The whole atmosphere was medieval and extremely unpleasant especially if you happened to be a woman. In the forty minutes or so that I spent in the Dar-ul-Uloom I saw only one other woman and she was so heavily veiled that only her eyes and a bit of her nose were exposed. So you see why the fatwa that punishes the victim and not the rapist comes as no surprise to me. 

Finally, two questions. Why is a seminary that can only breed Islamic fanatics allowed to exist in India? Will the government of India take action against the maulvis who issued that fatwa declaring Imrana haraam for her husband? Both questions demand answers from ‘secular’ leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav. And, if this is the secular India they want to build then give me Hindutva any old time.