Sister Outsider

The response of some Indian Muslims to the Taliban is both anti-women and anti-democracy

An Afghan woman living in Greece attends an anti-Taliban protest in Athens. Over the past few weeks, as the Taliban took over Afghanistan at a staggering pace, it became clear that the futures of the country’s women hang in the balance. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS /AFP / Getty Images
01 September, 2021

To be a woman, in most parts of the world, is to be at odds with the world around you. It is a state of combat in which freedom, for even the smallest things, has to be wrested. The details vary, but the struggle remains the same. From choosing what to wear and stepping outside the house to meet your friends to securing an education and building a career, everything is a negotiation.

Over the past few weeks, as the Taliban, a radical Islamist group, took over Afghanistan at a staggering pace, it became clear that such negotiations will once again overwhelm the futures of the country’s women. It can be no one’s case that these futures were secured by foreign occupying forces—particularly the United States—fixated on the myth of their own goodness. But condemning one does not come at the cost of calling out the other.

Hindu chauvinists gleefully framed the re-emergence of the Taliban to their prejudicial ends. Yet, I also noticed a disconcerting pattern among the stated positions of some sections of influential Indian Muslim leaders, progressive activists and members of political outfits such as the Jama’at-e-Islami Hind and the Social Democratic Party of India in Kerala, the state to which I belong. The responses were varied. In the case of Sajjad Nomani, the national spokesperson of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board—who purported to be speaking on behalf of Indian Muslims when he congratulated the Taliban—it was outright celebration. Some implied that it was of limited use to exhaust our seemingly finite reserves of empathy on Afghanistan, given the state-abetted injustices in India, against those marginalised by religion, caste and gender. Others expressed their faith in the moderate face that the radical group is trying to project. While there are Indian Muslims who have taken a mature and intellectually rigorous position on the excesses of the Taliban, it is important to address such arguments. What these formulations— articulated most often by privileged men who have appointed themselves the gate-keepers of the Indian Muslim identity—share in common is an erasure of the legitimate struggles of Afghan women.

As an Indian Muslim woman I have confronted both the hateful bigotry of my fellow citizens and gendered oppression within my community. My commitment to the religion I practise is reinforced by my dedication to its egalitarian principles. I cannot make my peace with these feats of moral gymnastics.