ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Negotiating the Mohalla

Restrictions imposed on Muslim women by their own community are closely linked to the exclusion of the Muslim community as a whole. As a group Muslims are being increasingly marginalised from the mainstream political, social and cultural fabric of Mumbai and from access to mixed housing. While homogeneous community-dominated neighbourhoods create the perception of greater safety for the community, they also increase the policing of women. This in turn has a strong impact on Muslim women's capacity to engage risk in public spaces.

I n south Mumbai, Amina, a 16-year old upper middle classspace with concerns of exclusion, risk, civic and cultural safety.dawoodi bohra girl who wears the ridha1 to collegeHowever, before I proceed further, I will lay out the complexitieseveryday says the ridha makes me feel safer in crowdedinvolved in a study of this nature and clarify the larger contextpublic places as people keep a bit of a distance from me. Inwith regard to Muslims in India.central Mumbai, Tasneem, a 28-year old doctor who works inFirstly, there is a common tendency to group all Muslims ina large hospital is rarely allowed to go out for a picnic or partyone monolithic homogeneous category when in actuality thewith friends or colleagues. In Byculla, Zainabs brother stoppedcommunity is just as ethnically, linguistically and culturallyher from taking a walk in a park and asked her to go to a ladiesdiverse as any other religious community in India with similargym instead. In Govandis Bainganwadi slum, young unmarrieddivisions based on caste and class. In the case of Mumbai, as Muslim girls are never sent to stand in the line for tanker waterwe shall see later, this complex heterogeneity of Muslims as asince the queue is formed on the main road where young mengroup is especially telling. Despite their diversity, however,usually hang around to stare and whistle at the girls. For VashiMuslims in India can also be looked upon as a single groupingresident Hajra, the city is accessible only due to the presencewhich share certain things in common namely, a religion withof the segregated ladies compartment on the local trains, Ita minority status and a collective experience of marginalisationallows me to get permission to leave home and be in the city.by the state.5 Even at night, I feel safe in the ladies compartment. Its mySecondly, often in studies relating to Muslims in India, aspace, I feel possessive about it.disproportionate weightage is given to the impact of religion andWomens access to public space can be explored and analysedpersonal law6 while ignoring other equally important economic,in several different ways and from many distinct perspectives.2 social and political markers to assess their condition, and thisThis essay attempts to examine how being a member of ais particularly so in the case of Muslim women. Apart fromparticular religious minority community impacts a womansreligion-related factors, low socio-economic status contributesaccess, experience and negotiation of public space. Moreconsiderably to low education and work levels among Muslimspecifically, it looks at Muslim women in Mumbai and explicitlywomen as well. At the same time, many of the restrictions oninterrogates their relationship to public space in terms of acces-mobility and deprivation faced by poor Muslim women aresibility, usage, and restrictive boundaries. By using ethnographicalso shared by poor low-caste Hindu women [Hasan andand historical data and analysing interviews with Muslim womenMenon 2004].across Mumbai city,3 the essay inquires specific areas of concernFinally, it is imperative in a study of this nature that we take whether living in mohallas (neighbourhoods) dominated byinto account how Islam and the Muslim community as a wholetheir own community has a bearing on Muslim womens spatialis framed within the larger socio-political context, both locallymobility; if the controls wielded by neo-fundamentalist groupsand globally. Globally, Islam and Muslims are increasingly beinglimit their participation in public space; if wearing the veil inequated with terrorism and religious hysteria.7 The debates on fact facilitates movement; how the issue of civic safety is framedthem have got more strident, confused and much nastier [Mamdaniin the context of Muslim women whose entire communitys safety2005; Roy 2005]. In India in the last two decades, where comis often at risk; and finally, in what way does their communitysmunal politics, electoral and otherwise, has intensified and rightgrowing exclusion from the everyday civic and political life ofwing fundamentalist factions have consolidated their hold acrossthe city impact them. Thus in a larger sense the essay asks, howreligions, not only has there been a visible increase in the incidentsand to what extent their community identity inflects womensof violence against minorities, both Muslims and Christians, butaccess to public space4 and their ability to engage risk.also the violence itself has become more intense and frenzied. The essay begins by laying out the particularities of MuslimsThis was especially noticeable in the nation-wide violence thatin Mumbai, thus attempting to establish the long relationship thatbroke out after the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992 anddiverse Muslim groups have had with the city. It acknowledgesin the specific targeting of Muslim women during the Gujaratthe role of the 1992-93 communal riots in changing the socialriots of 2002. geography of the city and deliberates over the increased exclusionIn Mumbai, there is a noticeable hardening in the attitudeand ghettoisation of Muslims as a result of it. Finally, bytowards Muslims and studies in different areas of the city revealexaminingthe impact of community exclusion on Muslim women,that negative feelings towards Muslims uniformly prevail acrossthe essay attempts to link together the issue of access to public lines of class and locality. The tendency by the non-Muslims is to view Muslim men as aggressors with abusive, dominating, and dirty being some of the phrases routinely usedby non-Muslim respondents to describe them and to paintMuslim women as victims of their own men and community.When asked to describe what they thought were the unsafe areasin the city, the answers, almost consistently, were: Muslimdominated areas like Bhendi Bazaar, Dongri, Mumbra. Had theyever been there? No. Did they know any one who had beenthere and been attacked? No. Their reasons for feeling the waythey did? The men have beards, look dangerous and have a weirdappearance. Did they think that they may be prejudiced? No.8 As Robinson (2005) says, Categorised as Other, taunted asPakistani if not vilified as terrorist, the Muslim in India todayis an anonymous and frightening figure. Fear and anonymity are,of course, crucial to the maintenance of cultures of hostility andviolence.

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