Nowhera Shaikh – Women’s rights in Islam, and also Sania

By Jyoti Punwani

She disagreed with the influential Deoband seminary over its fatwa on Imrana.

Sania Mirza was chief guest at the annual day of her girls’ madrasa.

Nowhera Shaikh, the mystery woman whose All India Mahila Empowerment Party (AIMEP) contested all 224 seats in the just concluded assembly elections in Karnataka, is quite a character, apart from her politics.

Nowhera Shaikh

She is an Aalima, or Islamic scholar. The 45-year-old, herself a madrasa product, has been running one of her own in Tirupati for the last 20 years. This reporter met Shaikh when she had come to Mumbai in 2005 to inaugurate a centre for Islamic studies, the Al Tawheed International Dawah Centre for Women.

The Imrana controversy was at its peak then. Imrana, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, was raped by her father-in-law. The panchayat decided that, by virtue of the rape, the 28-year-old was no longer her husband’s wife.  She was forbidden for him, and was now the wife of his father.  When an Urdu journalist asked the Dar Ul Uloom Deoband seminary for its opinion, the Ulema there agreed that Imrana was now haraam (forbidden) for her husband, but said she could not be considered his father’s wife either.  Nowhera Shaikh rejected both fatwas, calling them a travesty of the teachings of the Koran.

Nowhera has always been keen that Muslim women read and understand the Koran by themselves, without any Ulema interpreting it for them. That’s the reason she started her madrasa. The Heera Madrassa (her business empire is known as the Heera Group), or the Jamiathul Niswan As Salafia, offers free education to needy students. It was at the annual day function of this madrasa that tennis star Sania Mirza, over whose tennis shorts the ulema have seen red, was the chief guest.

The Al Tawheed centre was also started for the same reason, in partnership with Dr Shehnaz Shaikh, founder principal of the Al Muminah Islamic Girls school in Mumbai.

Nowhera also runs a helpline for women in Dubai, said Dr Shehnaz Shaikh. A close associate of Nowhera, Shehnaz revealed that the latter had registered the AIMEP as a national party four years ago. She therefore had to fight elections this year. The original plan was to fight the Gujarat elections, but she had not been allotted a symbol by then. That finally came through in December 2017.  As soon as she was allotted the symbol, she decided to fight the first Assembly election that came up – and that happened to be in Karnataka.

Won’t this party, run by a burqa-clad woman, ultimately help the BJP by dividing the Muslim vote? (Of course, this theory presumes that the Muslims would vote en bloc for the Congress.) “I don’t ​think so,” replied Shehnaz. “There’s no way Nowhera will do anything to consciously help the BJP.”

 

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Where are transgender persons in the Karnataka Assembly elections?

By Pushpa Achanta

In April 2014, in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) versus of Union of India case, the verdict from the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender persons and allowed them to choose their gender. This reporter had accompanied the then Chief Election Commissioner of Namibia and his team to a polling station where transgender women had enthusiastically turned out to exercise their franchise in the general election held the next month. Despite the progressive NALSA case judgement, the voter identity cards of the trans women showed their gender as female, which was not necessarily the preference for some of them. (The same was true of Veena S who became the first trans person in southern India to run for public office when she contested the BBMP elections held in 2010 as an independent candidate). However, there were also many trans persons who said that they could not obtain voter ID cards as they lacked documentary evidence of their changed gender or residential address. And this reporter could not spot any transgender men among the voters on that day – an unfortunate yet unsurprising fact as trans men are much more marginalided and invisible than transgender women.

Sadly, not much has changed four years later. This insightful report states that while the number of voters registered in Karnataka under the “other” gender category is 4552 in 2018, up from 2100 in 2013,  no trans person is contesting the election this time, unlike the previous election when there were two. In this story, Uma, a trans person and founder of Jeeva, a Bangalore based non-profit organisation that champions the rights of sexual and gender minorities and particularly transpersons, says she was uncomfortable when her earlier voter identity card identified her gender as male. But she adds, “I am ready to vote with pride as my voter identity card now identifies my gender as transgender. However, the absence of a valid proof of address is a hurdle for obtaining voter identity cards. This is because trans persons cannot easily rent houses nor are home owners willing to identify them as tenants in lease agreements or other documents.”

Parveen-receiving-request_380

Parveen, a transgender candidate, created history by winning the election to Ballari Municipal Corporation on a Congress ticket in 2013

Importantly, the report also highlights that some trans persons wonder why they should vote when the government and political parties have done nothing for them – they still lack housing and are compelled to earn their livelihood from begging and/or sex work. Further, in voters’ queues, others mock them. Uma remarks, “When we raised this issue with the previous Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, he suggested that separate polling booths could be set up for trans persons. But we do not want to be isolated from society as it will not let us participate in the political process. Society and state agencies must be adequately sensitised about the realities of trans persons. We need a separate Commission, budgetary allocations and community friendly schemes. There must be monitoring, evaluation and annual reports published on the status of government benefits and schemes that exist for the transgender community.”

Observation

The headline, introduction and text of this story has used the word “transgenders” instead of “transgender persons” or “trans persons” – it is important for reporters and editors to be aware that the term is considered dehumanising and disrespectful, besides being linguistically incorrect.

Rural women in Karnataka have a mind of their own. And they plan to use it.

By Nisha Susan
One of the funniest and most prescient images from the last American election were the near identical photos of (then candidate) Donald Trump and son Eric Trump both peeking at their respective wives as they filled out their ballots.
Prescient because attempts to limit the freedoms of women has been a key feature of Trump’s proto-tinpot administration so far. Prescient also because men are right to suspect that left to themselves, women may well vote in their own interests and not follow the diktats of the men in their families.
To read a example of this much closer home read Sowmya Aji’s recent reportage from Karnataka. While men still want to control who their women relatives vote for, women in rural Karnataka seem to have other plans.
In a typically guerrilla quote from the piece, 70-year-old Virupakshamma from Moka village in Ballari confirms “that her son was not within earshot and said, “He wants me to vote for BJP. But I am boting for his (showed her uplifted palm, the symbol of Congress). For more on what women voters are thinking about in Karnataka read Aji’s full report.

Hitting below the belt with a blitzkrieg of ads

By Aimee Pandit

Ahead of the Assembly elections in Karnataka on 12 May, the two major rivals, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been trading punches through an ad blitzkrieg. The print ads, placed strategically – either on Page 1 (usually below the mast head ) or on the City pages of most newspapers – do not mince words in their attacks against each other.  On 5 May the BJP’s political ads took over from the customary commercial ads that now often precede the front page in almost all the newspapers published in Bangalore.

While the first few ads from the Congress and the BJP assailed each other on failure of governance, they changed tack immediately after the rape and murder of a little girl in Kathua made headlines.  Suddenly the safety and security of women and girls became a stick with which to beat the adversary.

The BJP’s ad talked of how the incumbent Congress government in the state had failed to create safe spaces for women: “Women and children gripped by anxiety and fear. Siddha Sarkara is in deep slumber.” The Congress shot back with, “In Jammu, BJP Ministers rallied in favour of the rape accused. Will you still say you are with rape victims when your people do the opposite? BJP Government we want answers.” The BJP’s repartee the next day was this: “Modi Sarkara punishes child rapists with death penalty, Siddha Sarkara still asleep.”

IMG_20180507_175355The safety and security of women theme dominated the ads for a while.

The next day, a teaser ad from the BJP said this: “10% commission Sarkara makes Karnataka No 1 in corruption.” On the inside page the ad went on to quote a survey and list Karnataka as “No 1 in goondaraj, crime, killing lakes, potholes, floods of sewage, garbage mess and crimes against women and children.” Other ads from the BJP made digs at the steel flyover project initiated by the Karnataka government to much opposition from the public, calling it “Siddha Sarkara’s many ways to steal.” On 1 May the BJP’s ad bringing to light farmer suicides had a graphic silhouette of a farmer’s corpse hanging from a tree.

IMG_20180507_175151

Acting on a complaint by the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) banned three video advertisements by the BJP against the ruling Congress, on the grounds that they violated the Election Commission’s guidelines. The video ads were titled ‘Jana Virodhi Sarkara’ (anti-people government), ‘Viphala Sarkara’ (failed government) and ‘Mooru Bhagya’ (three fortunes).

The Congress filed another complaint with the EC against the BJP on 4 May for publishing false and misleading advertisements in newspapers, saying it maligned the image of Congress party president Rahul Gandhi and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah.

While the copy in the ads from both parties is a copy editor’s delight (clunky sentences, random and unnecessary capital letters), what stands out are the large images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP party president Amit Shah on one side of the ads and BS Yeddyurappa, the party’s Chief Ministerial candidate from Karnataka, on the right. The Congress ads generally have Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah in the same frame. The ads were big on accusations against opponents until recently; it was only close to the end of April that they began to highlight each party’s plans for the state.

IMG_20180507_175318Front page teaser ads like this greet readers of most newspapers every morning.

The ads are clearly a progression from the slugfest that has been on between the Congress and the BJP, with Modi calling the incumbent government the Sidda Rupaiya Sarkar (a twist on Siddaramaiah’s name and an implication that his government works only for money). Rahul Gandhi added to the slugfest by saying that Modi has brought the Gabbar gang to the state (a nod to the popular movie, Sholay, which was shot near Bengaluru).

Only when the manifestos were launched did the conversation turn to some affirmative action.  If election campaigns are similar to marketing pitches made to win contracts, why are they so negative? Why do they focus only on the failures of the opponent and not on one’s own game plan? Marketing gurus have always said that bad mouthing competition is one of the lowest tactics that one can be employed. Clearly the strategists for political parties do not seem to think so.

Tamil Nadu’s Women Leaders Live, Work In The Shadow Of Violence

By Raksha Kumar
India Spend is publishing a three-part series on women in grassroots governance in Tamil Nadu. This is the first story, which looks at how women leaders are intimidated through violence. The article has stories of women who have been killed for being efficient administrators.
The piece takes into account important cross sections of caste and age. “Dalit women leaders are particularly prone to abuse, threats and physical attacks. This is particularly true of those with no wealth or assets and are dependent on employment on farms owned by dominant castes,” it says.
A good precursor to the next piece on why women don’t move up the political ladder in Tamil Nadu, this story has laid down the foundational problems women leaders face at the grassroots. 
Read the full story here:

Empowering politics, not women?

By She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named

The All India Mahila Empowerment Party (AIMEP) has entered the electoral fray in Karnataka. The new party, promising to boost the participation of women in politics, irrespective of their caste and religion, was launched five months ago in New Delhi. At the launch, which was attended by a number of Bollywood stars, the party’s founder, the Hyderabad-based business woman, Nowhera Shaik, announced the party’s intention to contest in the upcoming Karnataka elections.

AIMEP IMG_20180226_142320394

Despite the fact that Shaik is a political newbie with hazy antecedents, the party’s launch was duly covered by most media outlets, including Business Standard, Bangalore Mirror, New Indian Express, Outlook, The Pioneer and other publications.  Judging by the fact that Shaik was widely quoted – on her views on the triple talaq, for example – it would seem that the media was taking her seriously. According to news reports, while supporting the Supreme Court’s August 2017 verdict on instant triple talaq, she praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts towards a ban on the practice and sought a monitoring system to ensure implementation of the SC judgement because, as she put it, “Muslim women are still being divorced under the triple talaq system.”  In her interactions with the media she also spoke on the lack of commitment by political parties to pass the long-pending legislation providing reservation for women in parliament and legislative assemblies even though many state their intention to do so in their election manifestoes. Shaik has also sought the introduction of stern laws to curb crimes against women, particularly rape.

The AIMEP literally made a grand, dramatic entry into Karnataka, with Shaik riding into Mysuru on a chariot. It was impossible not to miss the arrival of this party in the state, what with their full page advertisements in leading newspapers and large hoardings across Benguluru (and possibly elsewhere in the state). However, this ostentatious display of money power fuelled suspicions about the antecedents of the party and its underlying motivation to participate in this election despite the fact that it is not only very new but has no real base within the state.

The media were quick to pick up the thread and constantly cornered her with this refrain: are she and her party BJP’s ‘B team’, a plant by the national party to split Muslim (and possibly women’s) votes, which the Congress is betting on securing in the state? After all, Muslim voters account for 14 per cent of the electorate in Karnataka and will have a significant impact on the poll outcome in at least 45 constituencies, according to newspaper reports. Apparently unfazed by the allegations, Shaik has stoutly denied that she is anybody’s decoy or proxy.  She was quoted in a Deccan Chronicle report saying: “If the Congress or JD (S) loses their secular vote only because we are in the fray that shows their secular credentials are skewed and not genuine.”  (Also see other links below.)

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/mahila-party-not-bjps-b-team-5133798/

http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2018/apr/08/i-am-not-an-agent-of-bjp-or-congress-mep-president-nowhera-shaik-1798596.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaLJE7_uZNE) https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/karnataka-assembly-elections-mahila-empowerment-party-releases-

Although the AIMEP appears to be gaining traction in the media, with due coverage of the release of the party’s manifesto, and so on, veteran journalist R Poornima is skeptical about Nowhera Shaik. According to her, “Although we welcome a Muslim woman into the electoral fray in Karnataka, which has such a low representation of female political leaders in general, her antecedents are unclear. Becoming a political leader is a process, a movement and an andolan. Nowhera Shaik seems to have sprung up from nowhere.” She added that during every election small entities like the AIMEP, planted by major parties, can be seen indulging in the game of disrupting voting patterns. This time the AIMEP figures prominently in some newspaper reports on fringe parties in Karnataka who are likely to spoil the chances of major parties such as the Congress and the JD(S).  (See links below.)

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/pro-muslim-parties-could-trouble-congress/articleshow/63142158.cms/ 

https://www.bloombergquint.com/politics/2018/04/19/karnataka-elections-smaller-parties-play-spoilsport-for-congress

In all this political skullduggery, however, the representation of women in politics is falling between the cracks. “It is discouraging to see the meagre representation of women in the political discourse in Karnataka today,” says Poornima. “We need affirmative action from political parties on this front. One Shobha Karandlaje in the state is not enough!” 

The AIMEP’s manifesto does not include many novel or concrete steps towards the overall empowerment of women. It does list a ban on alcohol, support for 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies, a separate women’s hospital in every district, and special evening courts for the speedy disposal of cases involving atrocities against women among its poll promises. However, the rest of the document reads like a predictable laundry list of electoral promises, ranging from solving problems like unemployment, erratic power supply and drinking water shortage, and the provision of two-room apartments for people living below the poverty line (BPL), among other things. Shaik also talks extensively about government schools in rural areas being in bad shape and the urgent need to improve them.

AIMEP IMG_20180226_142547074

During her first press conference in Bengaluru, Shaik had promised to field 80 per cent women candidates for the upcoming state elections. However, only 40 per cent of the AIMEP candidates contesting in the Karnataka elections are women. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yl7-jtQx2M)

Nowhera Shaik did condemn the Kathua rape, demanding speedy justice for the little girl and punishment for not only the perpetrators of the heinous crime but also the people supporting them. However, there is little evidence in her interviews or in the party’s manifesto of a serious attempt to identify and address many of the other issues facing women in India today. Her manifesto makes all the right noises about the need for fast track courts to ensure speedy justice for women, a special task force to protect women from exploitation, etc., but it is difficult not to assume that these are just the usual platitudes mouthed by other parties as well. Somehow, nothing about the AIMEP really  explains the name of the party, which suggests that its primary political plank is “women’s empowerment”.

Corinne D’Souza of Vimochana, a well-known women’s rights group in Benguluru, thinks it is time for an all-women political party to emerge and fight for the real issues facing women in the state today. “We have not fielded a woman candidate yet because we don’t want to end up splitting the votes to benefit a particular party,” she says. Nevertheless, she underscores the fact that a strong woman’s party is required in the state. “Ït is about time. We don’t want bogus parties but the real thing,” she added.

27 April 2018

The low-tech of gender equality in politics

By Ammu Joseph

Just one woman MLA in the past 20 years!  What’s up, Bengaluru?! 

The facts revealed in this timely report by Rakesh Prakash are telling.

Only one woman has been elected from a Bengaluru assembly constituency during the last four elections in Karnataka.  And only one woman preceded her more than 15 years earlier.  No woman was elected to the assembly in the last election, in 2013.  Of the 58 women who contested the polls in the last two state elections (2008 and 2013), only six managed to get their deposits back. 

IMG_20180413_191136471

The report quotes political observers as well as party leaders on possible reasons for the abysmal record of a city often hailed as a dynamic centre of science and technology, enterprise and innovation (with great weather and gridlocked traffic).  Predictably they all seem to zero in on “the winnability factor.” 

The only female politician quoted in the report is the lone former MLA and minister, Shobha Karandlaje, who appears to think reservation is the sole solution to the problem.  She mentions the 50% reservation for women in local bodies, pointing out that there are more women corporators than MLAs, thanks to reservation. 

An important question that neither she nor the reporter addresses is:  what happens to all the women elected to panchayat raj and nagarpalika institutions? 

According to the report, the reasons for the low (at present no) representation of women in the assembly are (a) that not many women wield “the required clout and heft in mainstream parties” and (b) that parties think “women lack the killer instinct that matters at the hustings and defines winnability.”

Who is responsible for this situation if indeed it exists?  What has happened to all the thousands of women who have been elected to and served (some very effectively) in institutions of local self-governance across the state for decades?  Why have political parties not selected, groomed and mentored those who have performed well at that level and are interested in moving to the next level so that they have a good chance of winning assembly elections? 

One Congress leader is reported to have asked: “Where are the women who have the ability to win on their own in Bengaluru?”  Apparently this view is shared by strategists in the BJP as well.  But why should they be left “to win on their own”?  Are the sons and other relatives and close friends of senior politicians from various established parties left to their own devices, to win if they can and lose if they can’t?  Don’t the parties do everything they can to try and ensure that they win?  Why not extend the same support to promising women even if (especially if) they are not related to any heavyweight in the party?  After all, MLAs are supposed to be representatives of the people and the people include men, women and, let’s not forget, trans persons. 

It is particularly galling that Bengaluru’s record in ensuring diversity in politics and governance is so poor at a time when women seem to be coming into their own as voters in the city.  A recent report by Rohith BR revealed that more women than men have registered as fresh voters in the city over the last few months. Of the total of 88 lakh electorate in the 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru district, nearly half (about 42 lakh) comprises female voters.  Across the state, too, the number of women voters has reportedly risen by 13 per cent this year, compared to previous elections years. 

Ammu Joseph

13 April 2018

The low-tech of gender equality in politics

Just one woman MLA in the past 20 years!  What’s up, Bengaluru?! 

The facts revealed in this timely report by Rakesh Prakash are revealing:

Only one woman has been elected from a Bengaluru assembly constituency during the last four elections in Karnataka.  And only one woman preceded her more than 15 years earlier.  No woman was elected to the assembly in the last election, in 2013.  Of the 58 women who contested the polls in the last two state elections (2008 and 2013), only six managed to get their deposits back. 

The report quotes political observers as well as party leaders on possible reasons for the abysmal record of a city often hailed as a dynamic centre of science and technology, enterprise and innovation (with great weather and gridlocked traffic).  Predictably they all seem to zero in on “the winnability factor.” 

The only female politician quoted in the report is the lone former MLA and minister, Shobha Karandlaje, who appears to think reservation is the sole solution to the problem.  She mentions the 50% reservation for women in local bodies, pointing out that there are more women corporators than MLAs, thanks to reservation. 

An important question that neither she nor the reporter addresses is:  what happens to all the women elected to panchayat raj and nagarpalika institutions? 

According to the report, the reasons for the low (at present no) representation of women in the assembly are (a) that not many women wield “the required clout and heft in mainstream parties” and (b) that parties think “women lack the killer instinct that matters at the hustings and defines winnability.”

Who is responsible for this situation if indeed it exists?  What has happened to all the thousands of women who have been elected to and served (some very effectively) in institutions of local self-governance across the state for decades?  Why have political parties not selected, groomed and mentored those who have performed well at that level and are interested in moving to the next level so that they have a good chance of winning assembly elections? 

One Congress leader is reported to have asked: “Where are the women who have the ability to win on their own in Bengaluru?”  Apparently this view is shared by strategists in the BJP as well.  But why should they be left “to win on their own”?  Are the sons and other relatives and close friends of senior politicians from various established parties left to their own devices, to win if they can and lose if they can’t?  Don’t the parties do everything they can to try and ensure that they win?  Why not extend the same support to promising women even if (especially if) they are not related to any heavyweight in the party?  After all, MLAs are supposed to be representatives of the people and the people include men, women and, let’s not forget, trans persons. 

It is particularly galling that Bengaluru’s record in ensuring diversity in politics and governance is so poor at a time when women seem to be coming into their own as voters in the city.  A recent report by Rohith BR revealed that more women than men have registered as fresh voters in the city over the last few months. Of the total of 88 lakh electorate in the 28 assembly constituencies in Bengaluru district, nearly half (about 42 lakh) comprises female voters.  Across the state, too, the number of women voters has reportedly risen by 13 per cent this year, compared to previous elections years. 

Ammu Joseph

13 April 2018