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Myriad Methods of Othering

Rajni Palriwala

By Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 269, Rs. 595.00

Edited by Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 397, Rs. 645.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

The project behind these books is ambitious, even as it may appear very down to earth at first sight. It is an attempt to break the mono- lithic image of Muslims and Muslim women in particular as internally homogeneous and the complete other of non-Muslims in this country. That it is ambitious is made apparent when we consider how a blatant stereotype has grown and persisted over the last decades. A stereotype of a community made up of bearded, rabid, uneducated men, unquestioningly following their religious books and leaders. That this may be occasionally broken by the caricature of the civilized Lucknawi gentleman, the poet of Delhi, or a singer of malhar—symbols of a lost past—does not seem to dent it. Not least because it is also a construct of a community of bearded, rabid, semi-educated men lowering over the uneducated and oppressed women of their community—repressed by the ‘trinity of multiple marriages, triple talaq and purdah’. Muslim women—uneducated, shrouded, and cowering —are then presented as awaiting their Hindu brothers to liberate them. Various economic, social, and political interests, embodied in the corporate media, play no small part in this othering, even as individual newspapers and journalists may break rank, a theme discussed in the article by Sabina Kidwai in In a Minority. One need say little more than place adjacent to each other the coverage of Ameena—oppressed Muslim child bride of Hyderabad—and of mass child marriages on Akha Teej in Rajasthan—quaint, exotic and, yes, a little benighted. Or the massive coverage of Imrana as against the bare acknowledgement of the daily killings of females before they are even born in South Delhi—probably among the most prosperous, educated, upper caste zones of the country.   Why, one asks. Because a consciousness of the other which makes it the embodiment of all that needs to be condemned makes it easier to live with one’s own sins, allows rebellious women to be informed of how much better off they are? Or, as some might say it is the old semitic wars which when transported to the subcontinent added to the ignorance between communities, particularly among the elite, of all others—an ignorance long perpetuated by the caste system. And of course today when we cosy up to our one-time colonial rulers and the latest in world hegemons, we are worried that we may be ...

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