Why Don’t We Talk About Muslim Dalit Women?

I don’t know what it means to live as a Muslim woman in Modi’s India. I’m terrified most of the time.

All my life decisions – including the career I want to pursue or the place I want to live – are determined by the ruling dispensation’s expectations, and not what I actually want. It has only added to the myriad difficulties that we, as Muslim women, go through.

When you visualise a Muslim woman, you see someone in a Burqa and not me. You don’t see a recent college graduate from a liberal arts college aiming to make a career in politics. You see silence, submission and suffering.

When you walk down the streets of our house, scroll through news articles on Facebook and Instagram or read newspapers, you only see one kind of Muslim woman: covered from head to toe in a black-coloured niqab and walking in a group or with a man beside her.

If you take a quick glance at the Wikipedia page about the statistics of Muslim women worldwide, you will not see India mentioned anywhere. It is startling that a country like India – which has the third largest number of Muslim women in the world – does not even feature on Wikipedia. Let that sink in.

This is the extent of our lack of identity in this country.

Also read: A Life-Changing Rickshaw Ride With a Woman in a Blue Headscarf

As a result, the only issues that get covered are about our divorce cases – which, as we know, have a political agenda behind it. Nobody addresses the issue of education among Indian Muslim women. The general elections barely looked into the demands of women, let alone Muslim women.

Moreover, we never hear or read about the intersectionality within the community of Indian-Muslim women.

Clearly, the country is divided between people who support Hindutva politics and those who support Muslims and Dalits. But, not many people are aware that there is a huge population of Muslim women who belong to the Dalit community.

Bhim Rao Ambedkar talked about how caste discrimination is something that affects Muslims as well. While it is not as deeply embedded as in Hindu society, it still exists. However, it seems that we choose to ignore Muslim women who are also Dalits.

And by not recognising them or making their issues a part of the public discourse, we are further suppressing them.

This homogenisation of the Muslim population makes it easier for the emergent Hindutva politician to discriminate against them. It is easier to discriminate against one identity or maybe one religion, but it is harder to discriminate against a community which is an intermesh of caste and religion.

This is the time to talk about the intersectionality of all religions and castes in India. This is the time to bring them to the fore for people to realise how much is at stake.

Every state, every city and every district has Muslim communities with their own caste-based distinctions – much like the other groups they share those spaces with. But we, on the other hand, are made to believe that Muslims are just one monolithic entity. This notion needs to be dispelled.

We are only interested in talking about triple talaq or the freedom from Burqa when it comes to Muslim women. We don’t think about the Dalit Muslim women who don’t have access to education that comes with an employment guarantee.

Those who are educated mostly belong to the Ashraf caste, while the Dalits or the Pasmanda Muslim women barely make it to educational institutions. The intersectional identity of a Dalit Muslim woman makes her somewhat invisible. For her, caste identity comes before religious identity and gender precedes all.

It’s time to create a distinct identity and fight for a community which perhaps has forgotten that it can, and it should fight.

Varisha Tariq is a recent undergraduate from Ashoka University and she likes reading about politics and deconstructing gender and patriarchy. 

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty