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Archive for September 2017

The hijab is ubiquitous in Kuala Lumpur, but it barely restricts women

Crossings

  • Journalists outside Putrajaya hospital, Malaysia. Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

A FEW months ago, a clip of a young Malaysian woman putting shampoo on her hijab went viral on social media. The video, believed to be an advert for a Malaysian brand of shampoo, invited wrath of people worldwide. Social media enthusiasts labelled Malaysia a regressive Muslim country which doesn’t give freedom to its women to take off their hijabs even while washing their hair.

But what transpired later was that it wasn’t a shampoo ad but a parody ad made by a local headscarf company. Their intended message: these headscarves are as comfy as one’s hair would feel after shampooing.

Since my sister lives in Malaysia, the controversy triggered my interest in the lives of Malaysian hijabi women. When I landed in Kuala Lumpur for a holiday with her and her adorable black labrador, Buzo, I was curious to know about hijabi women there. I spotted them everywhere – driving buses and taxis. I saw them selling train tickets at KL Sentral station. I saw them helping travellers at information desks of airports. I saw them selling lingerie in malls. I saw them working late at restaurants.

Hijabi women were part of my high-intensity interval training class, too. They walked in wearing the hijab but changed to fitted sportswear to work out in the all-women class. After the two-hour session, the hijab was back to where it belonged.

One evening, at Kasturi Walk, a flea market near Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, I came across a bunch of slim and petite hijabi women, barely in their teens. They looked seduced by the sleeveless tops and trendy cotton, printed shorts. As I saw the girls buying a pair each, I felt compelled to talk to them. I wanted to ask – Do their family members know about their preference of clothes? What has been their journey so far in hijabs? Do they face any diktats from the men in the community? I cursed myself for not knowing Malay, the local language.

But my quest to know more about the hijabi women was somewhat fulfilled during a casual conversation with a Chinese Grab (App-based taxi service) driver. He told me that he has a Muslim girlfriend who works in a bank. She wears a hijab but she has no restrictions whatsoever. “Women enjoy every freedom in Malaysia,” he asserted.

  • A ground service staff of Malaysia Airlines at the departure terminal of Kuala Lumpur International in Sepang, Malaysia.  Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

But, I asked him, is Malaysia untouched by Islamist radicals? Isn’t it becoming a hub for ISIS recruitment in Asia? I told him about this US-based Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes survey 2015, which showed 11 per cent people in Malaysia held favourable views of ISIS.

He slowly opened up. His peace-loving, multicultural nation has seen some attempts by radicals to make it a more intolerant and radical Muslim country, he said. “There is a section of Muslims who judge women if they are ‘Muslim’ enough.”

In 2015, Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi was criticised for exposing “too much of her body” during the Singapore Games despite winning silver and bronze medals. But the then minister of sports defended her; he even criticised one of his colleagues for making a fuss over her attire.

Despite being as global as neighbouring Singapore, some recent incidents have forced the locals to think if Malaysia is losing its cosmopolitanism and if radicals have been taking centre stage. For example, on Valentine’s Day this year, the National Muslim Youth Association advised Muslim women against using emoticons in text messages or wearing fragrance. Two years ago, some women took to Facebook to complain that they were being forced to wear a sarong to cover their legs at a government office and also at a hospital.

But I saw women from every part of the world moving freely in a pair of shorts or tunics on Kuala Lumpur’s streets. And so was I. At least, for some days, I didn’t have to counter stares from strangers – men and women – for wearing short dresses. As an Indian woman, I felt more liberated in this Muslim country.

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Muslims of Bengal are embracing education to break free from a certain way of life and an age-old stereotyping. How are they going about it? Sonia Sarkar has the story

  • Pic: Sonia Sarkar

  • DEGREE OF CHANGE: (From top) Saira Banu, who hails from Chaksapur in Murshidabad district, is a student of Calcutta Medical College; girls at an Al-Ameen Mission hostel; inside a classroom of the same institution;  Pic: Al-Ameen Mission

Saira Banu consciously pulls the yellow dupatta over her head with her skinny fingers as she walks through the corridor of the Calcutta Medical College (CMC). She is a third-year undergraduate student at CMC and her classes have just got over. On her way back to the hostel, she stops outside the emergency ward, where some patients are awaiting attention.

“The poor who come from various far-flung districts look absolutely clueless. I try to get them appointments with the right doctor so that their treatment is not delayed further,” says the 20-year-old.

Saira’s empathy is natural. This young woman from Murshidabad’s Chaksapur, a little over 280 kilometres from Calcutta, has seen poverty very closely. She and her three siblings were brought up by their mother, Anjura Khatun. Their father, who suffered from a mental ailment, stayed at home.

Anjura, a bidi roller, made a hundred rupees a day – not enough to raise four children by any stretch. There were many nights when Saira had to sleep hungry. There was never enough money for Saira’s father’s treatment either. But through all this Anjura remained adamant that each of her four children should attend school.

Saira and her elder brother, Sahidul Alam, turned out to be top performers at the local government school. Says Sahidul in fluent English, “Our father used to throw our books into the water; he never wanted us to study. Because of his mental condition, he didn’t even realise that it was a wrong thing to do.”

Sahidul graduated from Calcutta’s Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (SSKM Hospital) last year. “I felt an internal push to get out of this situation. Besides, our mother never wanted us to work as a daily wagers like she did.”

A quiet revolution is taking place in the Muslim households of Bengal. Like Anjura, more and more people are pushing the next generation to embrace education. And lending support to this burgeoning aspiration are several private educational institutions run by educated Muslims.

These institutions help students from the community prepare for competitive exams. In the past five years, at least 50 of them have come up across the state. Together, their effort is also breaking the stereotype of Muslims as a community not inclined to education, or only to religious learning – a tool often used to damn them.

Al-Ameen Mission is possibly the oldest of the lot. With funds collected through zakat or charity, donations from educationists, noted personalities, state and central government scholarships, the Mission runs several residential schools. It also runs residential coaching classes for engineering and medicine aspirants across Bengal and in neighbouring Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Tripura.

The institution might run on charity but when it comes to granting admissions, it is anything but charitable. It conducts entrance tests to pick the brightest minds. “Most of our students score over 80 per cent in the higher secondary [Class XII] examinations. On an average, 1,400 appear for the engineering and medical entrance examinations every year; 30 per cent crack them,” says M. Nurul Islam, general secretary of the Mission. Sahidul and Saira are among its success stories.

According to Nurul Islam, most students are keener on medicine. That’s what he has noticed over the past five years. Does it have anything to do with the state of healthcare – poor or unaffordable – that they have seen in their immediate set-up? Perhaps. In the meantime, the rising number of Muslim students in state-run medical colleges lends credence to Nurul’s observation.

When S.K. Enayat Ali, son of a tubewell repairer, cracked the medical entrance examination in 2001, there were only three Muslims in his class at NRS Medical College and Hospital. In Saira Banu’s class of 250 students – CMC’s entrance batch of 2015 – there are 30 Muslims. In the past four years, at least 1,689 Muslim students have got through to various government medical colleges across Bengal. According to 2017 estimates, over 332 Muslim students have got admission in government medical colleges.

Of course, not everyone is cheering. Questions have been raised about the Mission’s success rate. This year, a case was filed by one Samir Ghosh at the Calcutta High Court, challenging the results of students of Al-Ameen Mission in the 2016 West Bengal Joint Entrance Examinations – an entrance exam for undergraduate engineering, pharmacy and technology courses. That the petition was disposed of by the court is another matter. Detractors suggest that the institution has a “deal” with the state government and that is how the Mission students qualify competitive exams. Nurul Islam’s rebuttal: “The case against us has been disposed of, so that’s the answer to these allegations.”

Truth is, for years a large section of Muslims in Bengal remained unlettered. Following Partition, many well-to-do Muslims left for what was then known as East Pakistan; another lot left in 1964, after the Calcutta riots. Among those left behind were small-time peasants, artisans and landless labourers, most of whom could not afford higher education.

After the land reforms during the 1970s, the economic condition of Muslims improved, but they continued to lag in terms of economic development as compared to the state’s non-Muslim populace. Most of them remained self-employed – working as farmers or tailors or bidi rollers. And while over the years, the literacy rate of Muslims in the state has gone up – from 54.7 per cent in 2001 to 68.7 per cent in 2011 – it is still way lower than the literacy rate of other communities in the state.

Former IAS officer Nazrul Islam runs schools, colleges and technical institutions in his native Basantapur village in Murshidabad. But the chairman of the Basantapur Education Society makes it clear that his efforts are for both Muslims and non-Muslims of the area. He says, “In 1976, I was the only graduate in my village. Now, there are doctors, engineers and PhD holders from here.”

Enayat Ali is from Hooghly. He is pursuing a Doctor of Medicine course from NRS. He talks about how children in his village want to know where to study after Class X, how to prepare for competitive exams, how to get scholarships. “Even parents now understand that sending children to work on the farm won’t really help.”

Bengal’s Muslims are also challenging the misconception that girls from the community are not encouraged to study. The female literacy rate among Muslims has gone up to 64.8 per cent in 2011 from 49.75 per cent in 2001. Nurul Islam of Al-Ameen Mission says, out of the Mission’s 393 students who got into medical colleges last year, 80 were girls. “One-third of the 13,000 students in our educational institutions are girls,” he adds.

Social scientists hail the trend. “First, this is going to bring about a socio-economic change in the community. But what is most important is that this mainstreaming of Muslims might change the notion of non-Muslims about them. Eventually, the prejudices and stereotypes could be reduced,” says Maidul Islam, assistant professor of Political Science at the Calcutta-based Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.

Some say they can understand that biases and perceptions hardened over the years will not vanish overnight. Mohammad Faruquddin Purkait, director of the AshSheefa Group that runs residential coaching centres for medicine and engineering aspirants, adds, “A section of non-Muslims still wonders how poor Muslims become doctors and engineers; they want them to remain maulvis or rickshaw-pullers or tailors for generations.”

Sometimes, these prejudices can be very blatant in day-to-day life, says Sahidul. He recalls one time when a Muslim woman was admitted for the delivery of her fifth child. “The doctors were ridiculing her and the community for having multiple children. But the moment I entered the ward, one of them said, ‘Shush… the doctor is a Muslim’.”

The still younger lot are plain weary of this kind of stereotyping. Take the case of Mohammed Hasanujjaman of Malda. A student of Class IX in Al-Ameen Mission School and the son of a farmer, the teenager keeps a beard, prays five times a day and also dreams of becom-ing an engineer. “I want to tell people that not all Muslims are radicals,” he says. “We are the new agents of change and society must accept us.”

Nothing succeeds like success. A degree of acceptance, no matter how minuscule, is coming about. Going by the results of the Muslim-run institutions, non-Muslim families, too, have started sending their children to these places.

Saira Banu talks about a professor in her college who applauded her in front of the whole class when he learnt she was a Muslim. “He said, ‘It’s not a big deal when a student of an elite Calcutta school gets admission in CMC, but it’s a huge achievement for a poor Muslim girl from Murshidabad to be here’. His words boosted my confidence.”

Saira says, “Earlier, I was a bit shaky. Now, I don’t have any inhibitions.” Sahidul, who is getting their father treated by a top Calcutta doctor, echoes her sentiments. He adds, “I don’t want to run away from my past anymore; I have realised that my past is my biggest strength.”

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170910/jsp/7days/story_171982.jsp

“Don’t have sex during Amavasya, Purnima, Shivaratri or Holi. A child conceived on this day will be born handicapped. That’s 100 per cent guaranteed,” Asaram is seen advising his followers in a video on YouTube. “Even if the child is not conceived, intercourse on this day will lead to impotence or the man could face several other problems. Never ever have sex on these days. It will lead to disaster, disaster, disaster,” he adds in another video. Currently, Asaram is in a Jodhpur jail for allegedly raping a teenager in 2013.

The “sex gyan” from godmen in India is very common. Perhaps, their knowledge of sex is vast, and a few reasons may suggest themselves. Many self-proclaimed godmen or swamis in India have been alleged to have abused their power over devotees, and their ashrams, to fulfil their sexual appetites. Last week, Gurmeet Singh, the “Love Charger” from Sirsa, was convicted for raping two minors. Sex scandals around such men are not new. Recently, a 23-year-old law student in the southern state of Kerala chopped off the genitals of a self-proclaimed holy man who tried to rape her and who, she alleged had been sexually assaulting her for the past eight years.In 2010, Swami Nithyananda of Chennai was seen having intimate moments with an actress, in a clip telecast by a Tamil television channel. But in an interview to The Telegraph, he said, “I am a virgin. I have no libido.”In the same year, one Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanandji Maharaj Chitrakootwale from Delhi was arrested with his aides and six women.The ashram of another Indian “spiritual” guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in New South Wales in Australia, was known to be a den of systemic sexual and physical abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. Apparently, most of the alleged abuse occurred at the hands of Satyananda’s disciple, Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, a convicted paedophile and sadist. Swami Premananda, who came to Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka in the 80s, was sentenced to double life, for several counts of rape and a murder, in 1997. He died in jail in 2011.A lot of the times, women allege that consent for sex is obtained by deceit; they are told that sex with them could cure all their ailments or would be a great service to God. But there are also women who are willing to have sex with these so-called spiritual gurus.Hyderabad-based andrologist, Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti, who deals with sexual problems of men, says that these “godmen” are just like ordinary lustful men who would like to have more and more sex. Krishnamurti, who is the director of Andromeda Andrology Center in Hyderabad, says, that with their vantage as “godmen”, it is much easier for them to have sex because there are “willing” partners at their disposal. For reasons of doctor-patient confidentiality, Krishnamurti didn’t name names. SONIA SARKAR spoke to him. Excerpts from the interview:Q: Do godmen come to you to discuss problems related to their sex life? Are these high-profile godmen?

A: One must understand that godmen are “men”, after all. Their sexual desire is no less than that of a common man. They may want people to believe or people may imagine that they are celibate or they don’t indulge in sex just because they are “sadhus”. But the truth is most have very active sex lives. These “sadhus” have plenty of opportunities to have sex with multiple people. If you have high libido, you don’t have to do anything, just become a “sadhu” and you are done for your life. They discuss problems pertaining to their sexual health just as any other man would do. They are of all ages, even 80-year-olds come to me. But I cannot disclose their names as they are my clients.

Q: What are the issues pertaining to their sex life that they discuss with you?

  • HOLY KO UNHOLY KAR DE: (From top) Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Swami Nithyananda and Asaram

A: The most common problems are related to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. All of them want a delayed ejaculation; they want to know the techniques for sustained ejaculation. Some of them also want to know how to get an erection soon after ejaculation. A lot of them read and watch pornography and they think that it’s natural to have sex with 15 women at the same time just like it’s shown in blue films. They have many misconceptions. They do different experiments in bed. Men often indulge in orgies. They ask me how to have sex with multiple partners. Often, they want to know how to increase their chances of incredibly intense orgasms. Some of them inject drugs to perform better. Sometimes, they smoke marijuana or take other intoxicants before having sex to deal with their anxiety or inconfidence. They think drug-induced sex is always better.

Q: What is the psyche of these godmen? Why do they rape women?

A: Godmen are like priests. Haven’t we heard about church priests molesting seven-year-old boys? Sodomy is also common in boarding schools, where often men in white robes molest young, powerless boys. There are also godmen who, irrespective of their age, leave no chance to take advantage of a situation and get physically closer to women. These godmen abuse their position and power. They are all lustful people who want to have more and more sex.

Q: Have they ever discussed with you their dirty secrets?

A: There is a small population of willing partners – both men and women – inside these ashrams. They are willing to have sex with these godmen. Not all women are sexually abused by the “sadhus”. There are also women who go to them secretly because they don’t have an active sex life at home. Consensual sex is common.

Q: Do they indulge in safe sex?

A: They prey on women who are available and who have no knowledge of hygiene and the risks involved. They pretend to be God’s people. They are careless about precautionary habits and take advantage of sex-starved women. These godmen are the biggest transmitters of venereal diseases. Their idea is that if they have sex with virgins, their venereal diseases will get cured; certainly that doesn’t happen. But in the process, they end up transmitting diseases to many others.

Q: Do they ask for surgical interventions for any problems related to their sex life?

A: They come to me if they suffer from malformation or deformities of the penis. On account of these deformities, the penis is cosmetically and aesthetically unsightly. So they want it fixed. Some desire a longer or thicker penis to either lift sagging self-esteem or to satisfy their sexual partners’ unrealistic expectations. Please understand, sex is their only means of livelihood.

Q: Do these godmen take drugs such as Viagra?

A: For people like “sadhus” who are promiscuous, it’s quite natural to take Viagra. Viagra is available over the counter, so they won’t have problems getting it. They use vibrators for stimulation too.

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170903/jsp/7days/story_170506.jsp)

https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170903/jsp/7days/story_170506.jsp


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  • ranginee09: It is clear, justice eludes many but to imprison a man for his humanitarian deeds in a civilised society leaves an permanent blotch in our criminal ju
  • ranginee09: The article points-out a very pertinent social ill. Social ostracisation in childhood may have unwanted results later in life. A child victim is not a
  • Seeker and her search: Thanks for reading, Anne. Yes, I know what you are saying.