In terms of women’s empowerment, India’s Muslims appear to be taking one step forward, and two steps back.
In the run-up to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal elections, an unusual campaign poster has gone viral. The poster is to promote the campaign of one Asra Fatima, who, as her poster tells people, is fighting for the Venkateshwara Colony seat, and is being supported by the Aam Aadmi Party. But Asra Fatima doesn’t occupy centerstage in her own campaign ad — that pride of place is reserved for her husband, Mohd Majid. Majid smiles down upon voters, while Asra Fatima’s photo, while fully clad in burqa, is added as an afterthought, and is about one-third the size of her husband’s.
It would appear hard to understand how someone who is unable to show her face to her electorate is expected to govern and represent them, but Asra Fatima’s case is hardly unique. Another campaign poster for one Shaheen Begum, who’s contesting for the corporator of Erragaddda division on an AIMIM ticket, shows her fully clad in a burqa, with just her eyes visible. But shown prominently on the poster is her husband Md. Shareef.
The idea that women candidates aren’t capable of representing themselves, and must have their husbands on their campaign posters flies against everything that the Indian electoral process stands for, but this appears to have been taking to the logical extreme in fellow-south Indian state of Kerala. In Kerala local elections, women candidates are removed from campaign posters altogether, and replaced by their husbands. In this campaign poster for one PK Sulfath, she isn’t featured at all, and completely replaced by a picture of her husband.
Yet another poster from Kerala for one Jamsheela Shamsuddin features her husband on the poster. The poster goes on to tell voters that “we deserve someone from our community.”
This poster is for LDF candidate Rejina Kunjippa, but features her husband Muhammad Kunjippa.
This poster is for the Muslim League candidate Amina Hassan Kunji, but features her husband Pokkappillil Hassan Kunji.
Yet another poster appears to promote Congress-backed UDF candidate Hajara Ali, but features her husband Appathinkattil Ali.
And it’s not only top tier politics that’s enabling women to hide behind their husbands’ identities — college politics in Kerala is equally affected by the malaise. In 2017, several news outlets had reported that campaign posters for college elections had done away with photos of women, and only showed generic cutouts of a woman in a hijab in their place.
The women office bearers of leftist student body SFI aren’t put on posters: while men feature prominently, women office bearers are replaced with generic silhouettes of women.
It would be hard to be not alarmed by these developments. Even as countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are taking steps towards women empowerment and equality — Saudi Arabia recently allowed women the right to drive and vote — India’s Muslim women are unable to even show their faces on election posters, and are using their husbands to represent them by proxy. To make matters worse, these regressive attitudes seems to be accepted and promoted by parties across the left-leaning spectrum, with candidates from Congress, AIMIM, the left and AAP regularly using their husbands’ pictures to promote their candidacies. This is a sign of society having bowed to creeping extremism — even as India’s constitution enshrines equality for women in all spheres of life, those ideals are being flouted in its elections, the very event that’s meant to be a celebration of the spirit of our democracy.