Monday, March 24, 2014

Choice for (muslim) girls: knowledge or marriage?

Educated muslim girls are facing problems getting a good match.

Still it makes no sense to deny education, the girls are no longer in a mood to accept anyway. Why not encourage (secular) marriage across barriers- just like Sharukh and Gauri Khan (and Saif/Kareena and Amir/Kiran and Salman/???). These folks after all are the true idols worshiped by the new generation. They should use more of their star power for encouraging education. Amir already does a lot of public good with Satyameva Jayate, then again he is special.

In West Bengal there were at least 10 muslim families (and five tribal ones) in the news last year, where the girls were about to be forced into under-age marriages and displayed astounding bravery by calling in the social service.

The calls to the police followed the same script and articulated the same plea: Kaku ami aro portey chai (uncle, we want to keep on studying). These girls know full well that education is the golden ticket out of a lifetime of servitude.

It is heartening to note that girls are refusing to be door-mats anymore (which is what the various personal laws would like to impose on them) and are also taking advantage of (free) educational opportunities in far greater numbers than the men.  

Even if the promised reservations materialize for muslims (as promised by many parties, including the Congress) it appears as if the girls will continue to jump ahead of the boys. This is a potential (social) time-bomb in the making.  

However if the emancipation of muslim women triggers a grass-roots movement for reforming of gender inequities that would be a blessing in disguise.  If and when this happens it will be truly deserving of the moniker of a "silent revolution" (see below).

This phenomena is across the board amongst all weaker communities and will (must) eventually lead to a breakdown in caste barriers (guardians will just not be able to put up enough barriers between educated youngsters).

In the case of religion however there is less reason for optimism. A Hindu girl may marry into a muslim family (after conversion) but this will not be acceptable for muslim girls.
City match-maker, Shahid Farooqui, has been faced with an unusual problem of late: of 'over qualified' brides-to-be. Though his bag is teaming with profiles of several eligible women from the Muslim community between 23 and 35 years of age, he has been struggling to get many of them a perfect match. Reason? All these girls are armed with graduate/post-graduate degrees (M Sc, B Ed, M Tech or even B Tech) now a trend, almost unheard of until a few years ago. As a result, Farooqui says, it's become a herculean task to find these educated women, equally qualified grooms.

"Seven out of 10 women seeking alliances these days are well educated. Given that several men aren't still particularly interested in a girl's education (many aren't qualified themselves) and pay more attention to her looks and financial status, it's getting difficult to find these prospective brides an appropriate match," the middle-aged marriage 'guru' says while also adding how a lot of families from the lower rungs of society are, thus, forced to "compromise".

Take for instance, Roshna (name changed) of Mallepally. Despite a B Ed degree in her kitty the young girl was forced to marry a school drop out, as the family failed to find her a better match. Ditto a graduate from Yakutpura who eventually married a man with no degree. The only bright spot: the decent returns from the groom's family transport business.

Sadly, such a predicament, observers rue, is often visible in other marginalised communities too. Take for instance, 33-year-old Harika (name changed). This doctor from Madiga Community who registered with a matrimonial site three years ago, is still anxiously waiting to find her 'Mr Right'-a doctor from her own community. "If a man earns well, families overlook his qualification. Mostly, it's the women who end up compromising," reiterates Yogita K from the matrimonial site Clearly, Harika's MBBS education, which might be good news for a country slogging to improve its literacy rate, has its flipside.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Jaleesa Sultana Yaseen, member of the Muslim Women Intellectual Forum: "There was a lot of insecurity among women until a few years ago and they took to education to support themselves. But that brought along a lot of practical problems which we need address to correct this imbalance. Parents need to push male children to study to resolve this," she says.

But not many college-going girl students from the community are so optimistic. The current trend has, in fact, instilled in them a fear of losing out on their studies.  
"My parents did not want me to take up post-graduate studies [for the same reason] but I somehow managed to allay their concerns. Now, seeing so many women who are struggling to find suitable matches around me, I am not sure what will happen," said Suhela Sheikh, who is pursuing M Sc (Nutrition) at a private college.

According to activist and writer Kancha Illaiah this problem is more prominent in the middle and lower rungs society as higher education within this section is mostly first generational. "Girls don't get well educated grooms within their own caste. Unless the caste problem is over come, this cannot be done away with," he stresses.

Professor Mustafa Ali Sarwari of Maulana Azad National University, meanwhile, considers it a serious social issue. Taking it a step further he says, "If these girls (out of lack of choice) get married to men who are less educated, compatibility issues are bound to crop up."

But nonetheless, educationists are happy with the trend, with those like just-retired professor of Osmania University, B S Rao, even terming this rise in women education as a "silent revolution" - a stark contrast to the feelings of Farooqui who confesses to be reeling under "bad business".


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