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Western media, academia and non-governmental organizations maintain a constant drumbeat of concern regarding the wellbeing of Indian Muslims. However, the lived experiences of Indian Muslims may paint a different picture, if only their voices were being heard.

CoHNA recently heard one such voice when we hosted a wide ranging conversation with Amana Begum Ansari, an Indian Muslim activist and co-founder of the popular India This Week podcast. For Hindu American and other viewers, the dialogue was an opportunity to amplify and hear directly from one of the many women Indian minority voices that are routinely ignored by the Western media, and to learn about her lived experiences and concerns. What Amana shared about her life gives the lie to the prevailing Western narrative regarding religious minorities in India, and offers some meaningful insights. 

This assumes special importance, since the one sided narrative is used to frame and drive policies that in turn drive negative perceptions against the cultural roots of Hindu Americans and enhance Hinduphobia.

Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion:

1) The Impact of Sharia Law on Muslim Women

The pressing issue that most directly impacts the lives of Indian Muslim women is not politics. Rather, it is longstanding special and community specific Sharia derived laws. People in the West do not realize that different religious communities are governed by unique laws with regard to civil matters such as marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance etc. 

In the context of Indian Muslims, that means polygamy is legal. It also means that until recently so was the practice of instant oral divorce – triple Talaq – a practice by which a Muslim man may divorce his wife by simply repeating the Arabic word for divorce three times. 

Begum Ansari explained that despite the bad press surrounding the Modi government’s ban on triple talak, the change was supported by 90% of Muslim women in India. She also noted that while leading male Muslim voices in India cite India’s Talaq ban as proof of official oppression of religious minorities, there was no such hue and cry when the Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh enacted similar bans.

2) Silencing of Women Activists

Begum Ansari spoke about the marginalization of women community organizers like herself, explaining that they aren’t afforded a voice, and their concerns are not prioritized by the mostly conservative male organizers who are recognized as the sole leaders of Muslims in India. Equally disappointing is the lack of support from leading media organizations, liberal voices and human rights groups in India and the West.

3) Islamic Caste Oppression

Contrary to popular understanding there is significant caste oppression in Islam, and it is derived from an interpretation of Quranic scripture. Being a lower caste Pashmanda Muslim is another obstacle for Begum Ansari’s efforts to improve the lives of Indian Muslims. 

She explained that high caste Ashraf Muslims are an elite minority consisting of 2.1% of the Indian population. However, they have 4.5% of the representation in the Lok Sabha (India’s parliament), while those of the low caste Pasmanda Muslim community. have only 0.8% representation in the Lok Sabha-meaning Ashraf Muslims are politically over-represented at the cost of Pasmanda Muslims.Begum Ansari explained that the real world outcome of the Islamic caste power dynamic in India is that the voices of Pasmandas are routinely marginalized

Note: The caste divide among Indian Muslims is a direct extension of Islamic invasions of India, in which Ashrafs are descendants of Islamic conquerors, while Pasmandas are descendants of local Hindu converts. 

This is interesting and relevant to the current Western dialogue on caste, in which caste stratification and discrimination are portrayed as a phenomenon that is unique to Hinduism and that it is derived from Hindu scriptures

Source: https://tinyurl.com/5n7847vu

4) Economic Success and Popularity of Muslim Figures

Begum-Ansari pointed out the following facts, which counter the prevailing Western 

narrative that Muslims are being marginalized by the Indian government and are under threat of genocide:

There are two Muslim majority states within India

Since 1947 the Indian Muslim population has grown both in real numbers as well as a percentage share 

Muslims have the right to open and manage their own universities and religious institutions in India, free of government oversight (unlike the country’s Hindus.)

A Muslim entity known as the Central Waqf Council is the third largest non-agricultural land owner in India. (First place goes to the Indian government and  the second largest landowner is the Catholic church)

Some of India’s biggest film, sports, and business luminaries are Muslims

Note: this runs counter to the narrative – seen in certain media outlets and non-governmental organizations – that India is headed toward a genocide of its 204,000,000+ Muslims.

We can contrast the current climate for Indian Muslims with the timeline of anti-Jewish laws initiated in Nazi Germany, leading up to the period of mass detention and genocide of Jews. 

For example, the Nazi regime enacted an official boycott against Jewish businesses, banned Jews from holding positions in government and universities, expelled Jewish children from public schools, placed restrictions on Jews’ freedom of movement, and forced Jews to wear identifying symbols that exposed them to random acts of violence. 

Source: https://tinyurl.com/yfzr4frm

There is no evidence that similar actions have been contemplated by the Indian government. 

5) Muslim Women enjoy more Freedom in India

At one point in the conversation, Begum Ansari stated, “India as a nation is free. You can achieve anything you want.” She later stated that living in India affords her basic rights, regardless of whether or not she chooses to practice her faith, and that this would not be the case in an Islamic state. She stated, “My freedom is oppressed by Sharia Law, but I still have rights due to Indian society.”

We at CoHNA sincerely hope that Amana Begum-Ansari’s voice and viewpoints will be added to the discussion that is currently taking place in the West regarding the lived experiences of religious minorities in India. We encourage readers to view the entire interview and to draw their own conclusions. Let’s make sure the voices of marginalized women get heard!

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