PUCL Bulletin, March 2002

Some Thoughts on Education and Muslim Women

Neelofar Haram

'She is ambitious, educated, beautiful yet, single and unemployed' it's the story of 30-year-old Shabnam who stays in a society where it is a trend to suppress women. And, "if any of the victims revolts everybody raises fingers at her", says Sufia her younger sister, who is herself struggling. She knows that studies and education would not take her too far, as happened to her elder sister, Shabnam, who was not permitted to work not because she didn't get a job; but she was not allowed 9 to 5 working hours away from home.

Welcome to the Walled city in Delhi where education is meaningless because girls don't find any future in it. They are forbidden from office work. They can't think of leading an independent life, as it is not a part of their 'tradition'. As it is, girls don't go for education. Those who manage to reach post graduation level see their parents finding it tough to look for an equally educated bridegroom. Twenty-eight year-old Zubee of Jamia (Mass communication) echoes this when says that I regret for not finding a life partner in college itself because my parents have not been able to look for an educated guy for me till now.

Besides this, working girls are equally unacceptable in the neighborhood. In fact everybody finds them 'too advanced and outgoing' as Sadia, a student of M.A. (Chemistry), says, "We are four sisters and all my sisters are educated and working, but my parents could not find a decent guy for my siblings because people think we are too modern. Does being financially independent mean too modern?" Nazia, a student of Daulat Ram College says that she was struggling to achieve her goals but there was a lot of generation gap between her and her parents, they are too narrow minded, they don't want her to go for higher education or any other work. She asks, "Why do we study? To make a good carrier and be financially independent, isn't it?" But in our tradition it is next to impossible, the most the families can think about is teaching. To be a teacher is the best and the only option for them.

Actually families are reluctant to let the females pursue higher studies, firstly because they are afraid of looking for educated matches and secondly they fear that seeing his wife earning, the husband might leave his job as has happened to many working women; one of them is Begum, a science teacher in NDMC school, seething with anger she says, "while I go out my husband sits and lazes at home. He doesn't do anything and I'm burdened with all kinds of duties from earning a living to cooking, etc."

Apart from a small fraction of working and educated girls, there is a large percentage of teenage girls who should be going to school but remain at home because they are not encouraged for higher studies. In fact, elderly women tell them that there's no point in studying 'karni to wohi chulhaa chakki hai' (ultimately they have to do cooking, etc). And since one day they would leave their parent's home, its better for girls to concentrate on washing, cleaning, stitching, and other chores. Although most of the time women and girls remain indoors and are not allowed to go out yet they are specially sent to nearby institutes to take training in these fields.

One would come across many poverty stricken families at places like Jama Masjid, Lal Kuan, Sadar Bazar, Ballimaran, etc., wherein girls leave school after 8th, 10th, or 11th standard depending on circumstances, to help out their mothers in household chores. Consequently, they grow despondent and with no option left they feel better to abide by family norms. In fact in this society girls are taught to remain silent for only then they can lead a peaceful life. They are conditioned to tolerate any kind of injustice done to them, as 'toleration is a way to salvation'. Asked about rights, Habiba says, "Which rights are you talking about? We have no rights, and where would we get to voice them? People out here are too conservative, we can't even have a hair cut as neighbours and other acquaintances make faces and look down upon us, each and every part of our lives is controlled by elderly people in the name of religion, culture, and tradition. And defying them would mean gaining notoriety in khaandaan and the rest of the society."

However, area eyes specialist Dr. A-u-R agreed to the fact there was some major problem with Muslim women and their education. Asked if he could give some necessary suggestions, he replied, "I think the problem will continue till necessary steps are taken for the education of entire community; education of one section, particularly women. Is neither possible nor is going to solve the basic problem"

Well, education and marriage are two different concepts but have a deep link in the lives of these girls and women. And with illiteracy all around, if a small portion of these educated women remain voiceless; time is not far when the whole society would suffer from its consequences.

The interesting point is that this is not the problem of the Muslim community everywhere. If you look at Delhi, you see that there are Muslim women, well educated and placed almost in every walk of life. Then is it the problem of the walled city areas in Delhi? No. You go to any old city in the country and you will find that the women in the inner city areas are in this type of bind. Why?
There can be one reason. These are areas in Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Hyderabad, and other places where the poorer section have been left in the old-city localities. Others, who have moved out, have moved up. Tradition has a hold over here. Those of the families in these areas who have made it, even to some extent, and have not been able to move out, are caught in this catch 22 situation. Not only girls, even boys in these areas do not show any special inclination for education beyond a level.

What is certain is that unless societal leaders and modern opinion makers pay some attention to this problem a lot of social frustration and pain is on store for everyone. For, if mothers, daughters, and sisters remain behind, can fathers, sons, and brothers go forward?

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