Opinion: AIMIM double standards evident when it comes to fielding women in elections

The attitude of the AIMIM in rejecting the Women’s Reservation Bill raises questions about the role played by the party’s brand of politics

ByZakia Soman

Published Oct 27, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedOct 27, 2023 | 9:00 AM

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi questioned why Modi was comparing India to Pakistan and Egypt regarding triple talaq. (South First)

Politics in India has remained a male domain despite the constitutional promise of justice and equality for all citizens, irrespective of gender. Our patriarchal society treats women as second-class citizens.

They often face discrimination in the public and personal spheres. Seven decades after independence, women are highly under-represented in legislative bodies.

The 17th Lok Sabha has 78 women members, and the Rajya Sabha has 24. Together, they comprise less than 15 percent of members of Parliament. Various state Assemblies have less than 10 percent of women elected members.

Also read: Only AIMIM MPs oppose the Women’s Reservation Bill

AIMIM opposed women’s quota Bill

The Women’s Reservation Bill languished for years owing to the apathy of our political class, which has collectively failed to prioritise women’s representation.

Nevertheless, in a historic development, the Bill referred to as “Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam” or the Constitution [128th Amendment Bill] was passed almost unanimously by both houses in September.

I say almost unanimously because two MPs from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) opposed the Bill in what has become characteristic of the party they represent.

There has been a growth of women’s movements for gender justice and equality country-wide, leading to increased awareness, particularly in the last three decades.

It has built a climate to compel political parties to backtrack on official posturing based on patriarchal mindsets.

Political parties today want to be perceived as supporting women’s causes. In the era of technology and internet connectivity, it has become politically incorrect to display misogynist attitudes openly.

Besides, women voters are becoming a significant constituency for political parties everywhere. No wonder they had to support the Women’s Reservation Bill.

Also read: Owaisi’s primary political considerations in Telangana

No pretence of women’s equality surprising

Apparently, no such compulsions seem to exist for AIMIM, which claims to champion justice for Indian Muslims. It seems they want to fight the approaching elections in Telangana and other states without any pretences to support women’s equality.

They do not think voters will punish them for rejecting the Women’s Reservation Bill. Such an attitude raises more significant questions about the democratic participation of Indian Muslims, particularly women, and the role played by the AIMIM brand of politics.

As per media reports, the party president and Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, opposed the Women’s Reservation Bill because it would provide reservations only to “savarna women”.

He questioned the provisions of the Bill and asked why Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Muslim women, who have even lesser representation in Parliament than upper caste women, are not being given any quota within the larger women’s reservation quota.

He reportedly said, “We know Muslim women are seven percent of the population, but in this current Lok Sabha, their representation stands at only 0.7 percent.”

Also read: AIMIM and its forays outside Telangana

AIMIM ignores women candidates during polls

To begin with, one might ask how many tickets AIMIM has given to Muslim women candidates in state and general elections in its entire history. How many Muslim and OBC women represent AIMIM as elected representatives or even in decision-making positions within the party?

The AIMIM stance on women’s leadership and participation in public life does not seem to be in sync with the rising hopes and aspirations of Indian Muslim women as witnessed in the last two decades.

In the past, AIMIM was known as a political party of Old Hyderabad city, with Asaduddin Owaisi as the sole MP since 1999. The rise of the party beyond its traditional boundaries coincided with the rise of Hindutva politics.

In the last 10 years, the party has been filing candidates at local levels in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Uttar Ptadesh, and a few more states with a small degree of success.

Typically, their vote share has eaten into the votes of Congress and other non-BJP regional parties. Many Opposition parties have openly accused AIMIM of being a vote spoiler B Team of the BJP. One cannot grudge a political party their right to contest elections.

Interview: Aysha Swapna, 1st lady principal of Kerala’s largest Muslim college

Double standards in party principles

Owaisi has been vocal and articulate inside Parliament and outside in public meetings, invoking the Constitution to uphold the rights of Indian Muslims. He has been invoking constitutional principles of justice, equality, democracy and secularism in his opposition to mob lynchings, “love-jihad” laws, and other issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).

I do not have a quarrel with that; in fact, it is the right thing to do. But it seems to be a case of double standards. These principles of justice and equality are forgotten when giving Muslim women equal rights within the family and community.

Indian Muslim women are discriminated against with practices such as child marriages, unilateral divorce, polygamy, denial of custody and guardianship of children, and denial of equal share in property in the absence of reformed and codified personal laws.

Owaisi represents the orthodoxy with archaic views that deny equality to women and confine them within the four walls of the home.

His vocal opposition to some of the Narendra Modi government’s policies has earned him admirers and followers amongst certain liberal secular sections who have chosen to overlook the conservative misogynist position of his party over the abolition of instant triple talaq.

Related: Progressive Muslim women decry UCC, but seek gender parity

Owaisi is orthodox in his views

Owaisi is personally opposed to reform in Muslim personal law; he took a public stand supporting the abhorrent practice [now set aside by the Supreme Court] and opposing the Muslim women who fought against triple talaq.

He continues to be an important member of the orthodox Muslim Personal Law Board that believes in perpetuating unfair discriminatory practices under the garb of upholding Shariat.

Hyderabad is known for some of the worst discriminatory practices, such as muta or temporary marriages of underage girls. The classic film Bazaar, by Sagar Sarhadi, poignantly captured the painful plight of adolescent Muslim girls in forced marriages with older men.

The character played by Supriya Pathak brings out the emotional trauma and predicament of a hapless girl who is the victim of both poverty and patriarchy. Alas, the party of the Old Hyderabad city never thought it fit to work towards eradication of such evil practices taking place under their noses.

As Telangana goes to polls, the AIMIM is likely to field candidates in several of the 119 constituencies. They have announced the list of candidates in Rajasthan as well.

Women candidates will continue to be missing from the lists. The party may again invoke Jai Bhim without adequately appreciating Ambedkar’s ideology of social democracy and the importance of equality for women.

In the name of uniting Muslims, it may further strengthen regressive thinking and orthodoxy within the Muslim community. They might win seats here and there, but it can lead to untold damage to our already-strained plural society.