By Zafarul-Islam Khan, IOL Correspondent
NEW DELHI, July 4, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) - The alleged rape of a Muslim woman by her father-in-law in an obscure Indian village has, once again, proved the mighty role – vicious as it may be – the media could play in our lives.
The case that has shaken India, grabbed headlines worldwide and caused secularists, feminists, communists and extremist Hindus to cry out aloud, demanding the abolition of Muslim personal laws, against the wishes 145 million Indian Muslims, is – in a nutshell -- the work of "a journalist".
It was only natural for IslamOnline.net to be alarmed by the case – as it appeared in the media – and it was up to IOL correspondent in India to dig as deep as humanly possible to get to the bottom of the so-called "Imrana case". So, this report reveals "astonishing" facts, to say the least.
According to IOL correspondent, the issue reportedly started on the morning of June 3 – a month ago -- when a 28-year-old illiterate Muslim woman, called Imrana, living in the north Indian district of Muzaffarnagar claimed that her father-in-law (Ali Mohammad) had "raped" her at night. Imrana, mother of five, claimed that he fled when she "screamed".
Enquiries – by this correspondent -- show that no one in the tiny house or her immediate neighbors heard any "scream" at night. This was strange as it is summer time when all people living in the tiny inter-connected houses sleep on the terrace or in open courtyards inside their homes.
What adds a new dimension to the case is that this allegation was made in the midst of an on-going dispute
in the family about selling the ancestral property. The father-in-law wanted to sell the house while the son, Noor Ilahi and his wife Imrana – the heroine of the infamous story -- opposed the move as they had nowhere to go.
A team of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which visited the concerned village and met the alleged victim, her relatives and village people Saturday, July 2, came back with the impression that no rape has taken place and that it was a case of property dispute, says IOL correspondent.
Muslim women protest in support of Imrana. (Reuters)
The father-in-law has all along denied the rape claim and the issue was dismissed within the family but some neighbors got wind of it and soon a small-time local journalist called Shakti of the Hindi paper Dainik Jagaran
got wind of it.
Shakti came to the family and demanded ten thousand rupees -- a price to keep silent. The poor family pleaded that it did not have this kind of money, according to IOL correspondent, local witnesses.
The journalist went ahead and published the story in his newspaper. Zee TV picked it from Dainik Jagaran
and thereafter all the channels, newspapers, agencies, NGOs and government organizations descended on the small village of Charthawal whose inhabitants would tremble even at the sight of a single baton-wielding policeman.
These vultures started interviewing just about anyone they found on the village streets, reporting edited versions which showed that a great crime had been committed against a hapless Muslim woman even before the crime was established.
The local media – so far -- continues to describe what happened as "rape" discarding the conventional adjective of "alleged" in such cases because no authority till now has proved it to be a case of rape.
Unusual media focus and the incompetence of the Indian Muslim religious and political leadership has only worsened the situation as was seen in the somewhat similar case of Gudiya a few months ago.
Alleged "rapist" Mohammad Ali arrested by the police.
As in many rural areas in the Subcontinent, a local elders council (panchayat)
was called in the village June 15 to deliberate over the issue. A local maulavi
(scholar) told the panchayat
that after the incident the woman was haram
(forbidden) for her husband as she is like his "mother" now and that she should marry the rapist!
was described by the media as a "Shariat Panchayat" as if a meeting of Islamic scholars had taken the decision, which is not true. Naturally the woman refused this grand gesture and moved out to live with her brothers in a nearby village. Noor Ilahi, a rickshaw puller, could not stand the attention and fled from the scene.
Next day, June 16, the 59-year-old father-in-law was arrested by the police on rape charges and sent on judicial remand for 14 days.
While all this was going on, the woman or her husband had not complained to the police. It was only two weeks after the alleged rape that the woman made a complaint to the police and an FIR (first information report) was registered. She appeared before a civil court in Muzzafarnagar June 20 to make her statement.
That was the time for political meddlers to exploit a situation for their benefit as usual. As Delhi-based secularist women outfit called "Muslim Women Forum" sent two representatives June 20, to meet Imrana. They bribed her with five thousand rupees and asked her to say to the media and police that she will not accept the ruling of Shariat (Islamic Law) and will only go for the civil court's judgment to safeguard her rights.
On June 30, Dr Tasleem Rahmani, president of the Muslim Political Council, called a press conference in Delhi in which he showed a 3-hour video in which Imrana appeared saying that no rape had taken place, that she was given five thousand rupees by a "feminist organization".
Dr Rehmani said that the case was blown out of proportion to malign the Muslims and the Sharia'h. He planned to file a complaint in the Press Council of India against "irresponsible" reporting. Most newspapers and channels chose not to carry Dr Rehmani's statement.
Then comes the role of some religious people to unintentionally fuel anti-Muslim media. A Noida-based Urdu newspaper, Rashtriya Sahara,
asked the Mufti in India's premier Muslim seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband, to give his opinion.
The mufti (Maulana Habibur Rahman), without ascertaining the facts of the case or going to the area or sending someone there to find out the truth, issued a fatwa on June 25, saying Imrana "is now haram
(forbidden) for her husband and should leave him".
"We have obtained a copy of this fatwa
and asked Mufti Habibur Rahman certain questions. He was unable to counter our argument that the Qur'anic injunction ("And marry not women whom your fathers married…" - 4:22) does not apply here," says this correspondent.
"He gave us some references to support his view but when we read them, they did not seem to support the Mufti's interpretation which is the opinion
of some Hanafi fuqaha
who consider rape also as a cause for prohibiting such marriages.
"We confronted the Mufti again. This time he referred us to another Maulana who, he said, was present in the meeting when the decision was taken. We told him, why we should go to someone else when he (Mufti Habibur Rahman) had signed the fatwa. Seemingly he was not pleased with our argument and asked us to write down whatever "problems" we had in mind. We did this promptly and are still waiting for his reply."
Other schools of thought like Shafiees, Malikis, Jaafari Shia and Ahl-e Hadees reject this interpretation as they hold that only legitimate marriage is meant in the Qur'anic injunction and a crime does not change the rule.
"Just one day after our interaction June 29, the Mufti's office announced Friday, July 1 that the previous fatwa was not about Imrana, which is factually incorrect. While the name "Imrana" is not mentioned in the question to which the fatwa
was given, her village and district are mentioned. Moreover, the 3 July issue of Rashtriya Sahara
Urdu newspaper carries an article by Mufti Habibur Rahman which explicitly mentions the name of Imrana and pronounces the same opinion he earlier expressed in his fatwa."
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, too, has now distanced itself from that fatwa and will now soon to reconsider the issue, added IOL correspondent.
Political parties were also quick to take advantage of the issue in order to indulge in their usual pastime of attacking the Muslim personal laws and repeat their age-old demand to force a "Uniform Civil Code" (UCC) applicable to all citizens.
True, UCC is a "guiding principle" laid down in the Indian Constitution's Article 44 but at the same time personal laws of various communities including Hindus are respected and the stated policy of the government ever since Independence has been that the personal laws will not be changed unless the demand is made by the concerned community itself, according to IOL correspondent.
Various communist, socialist and rightist parties repeated their demand to enact UCC. The most vociferous voice was that of the beleaguered Hindutva leader LK Advani who thundered Friday that "Muslim laws must change".
Imrana issue had given a strong stick for the BJP to beat "pseudo-secularists".
"No civil society can accept the treatment being meted out to Imrana, the victim of a heinous crime, by scholars. The ulemas (scholars) must reconsider their decision to ensure that dignity is restored to Imrana,” said Advani.
On June 28, BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley had said in a specially convened press conference that "The entire nation is concerned over recent developments in relation to the case of Imrana, a helpless victim of rape allegedly committed by her father-in-law." Jaitley demanded the implementation of UCC, saying that Imarana's case shows that "obnoxious religious practices [are] still prevalent…This is wholly unacceptable under any civilized notion of the rule of law."
President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council-VHP) Ashok Singhal said that "the time has come to quash the Muslim Personal Law."
Marxists, too, joined the fray. CPIM's Brinda Karat on June 27, said that it’s a “shocking example of how contractors of religion can bulldoze the constitutional rights of a citizen."
Congress Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi announced on the same day that "Fatwas are irrelevant." Replying to a question, Singhvi said if there is a crime involving a person of any religion, caste or creed, then it is dealt under the criminal law and fatwas
or personal laws become irrelevant.
A delegation of the National Commission for Women visited the victim on 30 June. It demanded a speedy trial and appealed against politicization of the incident. Commission chairperson Girija Vyas, a Congress leader, said that "the issue should not be politicized but treated on humanitarian grounds." She enlightened us that the "Constitution is supreme."
According to IOL correspondent, it is a fact of life in India today that all possible liberties are taken where Muslims are concerned. The media does not take the same freedom when it comes to other communities. The same media was repeating ad nauseum
that the AIMPLB was supporting the Deoband fatwa when only a certain member of the board, a laywoman, had done that. Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan said July 1, that in the guise of Imrana issue, the media is targeting Islam. "There is an attempt behind this conspiracy to malign Islam and Muslims," he added.
On 1 July the AIMPLB distanced itself from the Deoband fatwa and said that a meeting of its working committee will be called to deliberate on the issue. Next day Syed Shahabuddin, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), came out strongly against Advani's outpourings. He said that the AIMMM condemns the political exploitation of the Imrana case by the BJP to promote its long-cherished agenda of religious assimilation of the Muslim community through imposition of a common civil code in substitution of its Shariat-based Personal Law.
The storm over Imrana will die down as time passes but forces which are ever-ready to use any handle to beat Muslims with will soon find some other issue and blow it out of proportion unless leaders of the Muslim community are ready to meet the challenges and adapt to the demands of the modern times and requirements of natural justice.