How Are Women Represented in Urdu Print Media?

Very few attempts have been made to analyse the representation of women and gender power relations in the Urdu print media in India. This article attempts a content analysis of the popular weekly newspaper, Nai Duniya. 

The weekly newspaper, Nai Duniya, was started in 1951 by Hazrat Maulana Abdul Wahid Siddiqui. It is now headed by his son, Shahid Siddiqui, who is also a former member of the Rajya Sabha. An average of 52 issues/editions are published every year from Nizamuddin, Delhi. The publication claims to be a “political and social weekly” and covers national, international, and local news in Urdu. It has a wide circulation in the Hindi belt along with those states that have a considerable population of Muslims.

The average edition of Nai Duniya has 24 pages. The front and back pages are glossy and in colour, while the rest of it is black and white. Table 1 shows the composition of each issue/edition in terms of various news categories (from January 2015 to December 2015).

S No

Category

% of News Coverage

1.

Siyasi qaumi duniya (Political turmoil in the country and rest of the world)

65–70

2.

Current debates

10

3.

Social issues in general (includes both men and women)

4–11

4.

Islami duniya (Islamic world)

One page

5.

Khwateen ki duniya (Women’s world)

One page

6.

Mukhtasar dilchasp kahani (Interesting short story)

One page

7.

Filmi duniya (Entertainment world)

One page

8.

Khel ki duniya (Sports world)

One page

 

The table is only indicative of the relative weight of various categories pertaining to different news items in each edition.

I looked at the issues between January and December 2015 for this article and the analysis was done in a social constructivist framework. As is clear from Table 1, news that is exclusively related to women is limited. The major thrust of this study is on the news, articles and stories published in the categories 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Table 1 (some of these were directly related to gender relations and women’s issues). These articles were read thoroughly, after which coding was done and themes were identified. Thematic analysis in terms of presenting and portraying women and gender relations was done.

Representation and Presence of Women

The findings can be divided into two subheadings: overall representation and presence of women in news stories, and construction of gender identity.

Although Nai Duniya claims to be a social and political newspaper, the proportion of both categories varied greatly. The pages are heavily dominated by news reports related to national and international political affairs. While overall, political news related to women was negligible, what was published had very rare exclusive coverage of women politicians. In its coverage of political news, the newspaper generally spoke for the welfare of Muslim men. Perhaps the assumption was that this would also benefit Muslim women. It was observed that the sport section of the newspaper mostly covered men’s cricket. In regard to news of the entertainment world, however, both male and female actors and entertainers were given equal space. Female celebrities received more attention, not for their work or the brands they endorsed, but for controversies in their personal and professional lives and alleged link-ups with male actors or cricket players. In the period of the study, relationships of Geeta Basra and Harbhajan Singh, and Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli were highlighted on a regular basis.

The Islami Duniya page contains articles based on the following of the Quran and Sunna (practice by the Prophet). Articles in this section were mostly related to Islamic teachings, Islamic laws, fiqh (jurisprudence) and Islamic tenets, to guide the Muslim ummah (the larger community) to Islamic ways of living and were applicable to both male and female followers.

News items, reports and articles related to social issues formed about 4%–11% of the total news coverage and did not specifically talk about women’s issues. Women only figured in the news when they made the headlines following controversies, for example, in the case of “god-woman” Radhe Maa.

Construction of Gender Identity

The weekly actively constructs an “appropriate” gender identity as per the Islamic cultural norms by giving ample space to those articles and opinion pieces that have wifehood, motherhood, submissive femininity, and aggressive masculinity as predominant themes. Appreciation of traditional and stereotypical sex roles, explicit and latent sexism, as well as reorientation also find space in the short stories published in the weekly.

Wife and Motherhood: In the pages of Nai Duniya, the construction of the notion of wifehood and motherhood works very subtly with one full page titled “Khwateen ki Duniya” (women’s world) dedicated to women.

The contents of this page focus mostly on home furnishings and interiors, health and beauty tips, fashion queries, recipes and cooking tips, and child-rearing. By labelling this page “women’s world,” the newspaper perpetuates the notion that home is the exclusive and segregated space for women and that the public space belongs to men. In some cases, titles of the articles are illustrative of this.

“Khwateen rakhe apne kitchen ka khayal” (Women should look after their kitchen) 

Source: 23 February 2015 Issue

This reaffirms that the kitchen belongs only to the woman and that the household chores are her special and moral duties. In fact, this section deviously advocates that women must nurture and expand their “feminine qualities.”

Modern Women versus Our Women: In a society with a dominant patriarchal structure, the hegemonic powers feel threatened by any change, whether material or value based. The fear is that this change may produce dissatisfaction and lead to disturbance of the societal structure. This is seen to be the case particularly where women are concerned. The patriarchal forces condemn the changes and claim that values are facing deterioration or that the women themselves may lose those values. The message is the need to protect Muslim women from other “modern women.”

In order to prescribe femininity, the weekly was often found juxtaposing “our women” against “modern (Western) women.” Since it perceived modern women as a threat to Islamic femininity, it even tried to caution women readers.

“ … chhoti si baat par shauhar se alag hona aur phir dost ahbab ko ikattha karke daawaten dena aur jatana ki humne bohat bada teer mara hai, ye galat soch hai. Ghar aur shauhar se alhadagi aurat ke liye nuksandeh hai … ye chalan magrib ki wajah se aaya hai ... samaj me bikhraw paida ho jaega agar yuhi ye partiya farog hoti rahi to”

“ … getting divorced from one’s husband due to paltry differences and throwing parties afterwards by gathering friends and relatives to show that one has achieved something is wrong thinking. Getting separated from ones’ home and husband is harmful for women … this trend has been brought about by the influence of the West … the societal structure will break if these parties continue.”

Source: “Talaq Par Jashn—Saudi Samaj ka Naya Chalan,” Divorce Parties—New Trend in Saudi Society (tr), 30 March 2015.

Though Saudi women are also Muslim, the weekly not only distinguished them from other Muslim women, but also denigrated them as influenced by Western values, and hence, culturally uprooted. It seems that the section “Khwateen ki Duniya” takes on the role of being the guardian of Muslim women very seriously, besides also treating them like children who need to be given moral lessons. 

Some articles do appear progressive at the first reading, but on closer scrutiny offer a different perspective.  One article was titled “Islam ki Nazar Me Aurat Kamtar Hai? Islam ke Naam par Ladkiyon Ki Haq Talfi Kyu?” (Are Women Considered Inferior in Islam? Why Are the Rights of Women Snatched in the Name of Islam?). The title seems to be progressive in its approach and the article mentions various rights given to women in Islam. However, the article does not mention the flaws inherent in these rights. In Islam, women have the right to property, but the article does not question why the daughter’s share in property is half in comparison to that of a son. It also does not discuss the anomalies of Sharia, like why the testimony of two women witnesses is considered equal to that of one male witness. It does not discuss the present situation of discrimination and injustice done to women in the name of religion.

One article asserts that most of the women interviewed (educated, independent, working in corporate companies, or studying in universities) claimed that the hijab (veil) protects their femininity. Therefore, they observe purdah, which is not a hurdle in their way of education and job.

“… koi aapka istehasal karne ki soch bhi nahi sakta kyunki dekhne wale ki nazar akeedat se jhuk jati hai.”

“... nobody even dares to think about exploiting you, because when they see you, their eyes are lowered in reverence (when you are in hijab).”

Source: “Akhir Kyu Pahnati Hai Khwateen Hijab?” Why Women Observe Purdah? (tr), 30 March 2015.

However, the newspaper does not include the voices of those women who do not endorse the hijab or the purdah.

The patriarchal structure views the feminist movement and its values as a potent danger and threat to the social structure:

“… Feminist movement ne auraton ko lipstick, bra aur heel ke siwa kuch nahi diya hai, zahir hai unka maksad aurat ko azadi ke naam par bazaar banane ka hai.”

“…The feminist movement has given nothing to women apart from lipstick, bra, and high heels; it is evident that their sole purpose is to make women a target market in the name of freedom.”

Source: “Deepika Chahti Hai Sex Ki Mukammal Azadi,” Deepika Wants Free Sex (tr), 20 April, 2015.

This article misinforms thousands of young Muslim women about feminist struggles and achievements.

Appreciation of Traditional and Stereotypical Gender Roles: The traditional gender roles of being a good wife, mother, and a daughter are highly valued and revered in society. In most of the short stories published in this weekly, the female protagonists were portrayed as highly submissive, hardworking, and devoted women. Though they are well-educated, qualified and working, they are also shown to be great cooks and perfect homemakers who discharge their duties both at home and in the public domain. In one of the stories, the protagonist is a 35–40-year-old male who gets married to a girl who is not typically beautiful, but is financially independent. Although he regrets marrying an unattractive girl, the girl comes with a huge amount of dowry. She is also educated, has a job and a bank balance. But most importantly, she is very submissive, hardworking, dedicated and pious, along with being active in household chores, being a good cook, and being non-argumentative; so much so that the man considers himself as the luckiest man on earth to be honoured with such a life partner. In his words,

“… usne bhule se bhi kabhi apni kamai ka raub mujh par nahi dala, balki apni puri tankhwah aur kiraya lakar mere hath par rakh deti hai. Meri har tarah se khidmat aur khayal rakhti hai. Badi sugadh, salika shaur, ba-akhlaq aur toot kar chahne wali biwi hai. Khana itna accha pakati hai ke ungliya chatta rah jata hun … sach pucho to wo zahiri husn rakhne wali auraton se kahin zyada haseen aur purkashish dikhai deti hai.”

“ … she never puts me down by boasting about her salary. In fact, she hands over her entire salary and rent to me. She serves me well and takes care of me. She is a very talented, well-mannered, polite and loving wife. She cooks so well that I’m often left licking my fingers … if you ask me, believe me, she seems far more beautiful and attractive than those women who only have outer beauty.

Source: M Iliyas (2015)

These stories promote the idea that marriage is the ultimate objective for women and as long as women discharge their duties “properly,” they will be able to make their marriages work. In the present scenario, when a large portion of intellectuals and activists are coming forward in favour of women’s equality in both the public and private sphere, stories with such messages work as an understated tool favouring patriarchy and establishing male hegemony and masculinity.

Submissive Femininity and Aggressive Masculinity: Gender is socially constructed. Both men and women are not free from the burden of gender roles that create exclusive categories of femininity and masculinity. The man is characterised as the saviour, protector and earner. The expectations that society has of a man as the bread-winner and the agony he feels if not able to provide enough resources for his family are depicted in the story Isaar (selflessness) when the protagonist fails to get a decent job.

“… unke aankhon me jalte ummeed ke diye ahista ahista bujh rahe they, mai khud bohat sharmsar rahta tha, unse nazre milane ki himmat nahi thi … mere maa, baap aur behno ki aarzuon, khushiyo aur ummedon ka khoon ho chuka tha aur mai apne aapko mujrim mehsus kar raha tha”

“… the glimmer of hope in their eyes was slowly dying out, I was filled with regret myself and did not have the courage to face them … the desires, joys and expectations of my parents and sisters had been murdered and I felt guilty about it”

Source: Firdaus (2015)

Conclusions

Though Nai Duniya gives ample space to the issues of exclusion of the Muslim community in general, it refrains from giving the same space to issues of exclusion of Muslim women. The messages through the stories and the articles presented in the newspaper conform with the hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal nature of the society. The analysis of gender power relations suggests that the newspaper does not question hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy. Messages like this tend to inculcate the same social values, norms, beliefs, and customs in people’s minds. Although the newspaper claims to be progressive and the voice of the youth, it includes only the voices of men; the number of male correspondents outnumber the female correspondents and female correspondents are limited to stories and articles for women’s section. It does not provide enough space to women. It talks superficially about gender equality and at the same time, perverts the idea of gender parity. Women are mostly shown either as obedient, dependent and subservient, or “too progressive” such that they may spoil or disturb the present social structure. This extreme characterisation of women tends to serve the basic purpose of differentiating between “good” women and “bad” women, and consequently, inspire women to be “good” women.

Must Read

Tagore's brand of nationalism is fundamentally rooted in the question of what it means to be human.
Even though it would appear that more women are participating in electoral politics in India, there are several qualitative ways in which they are politically excluded. 
Game Theory Deck: Can 'Rational Decisions' Keep You Out of Jail?
Back to Top