These pictures were taken at the Dalit Adivasi Mahasamelanam, in November 2012, where tens of thousands of Dalits and Adivasis, including families of men, women, children, the elderly and in some cases, entire village communities, gathered together at the famous Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi in a campaign to end caste, caste discrimination, and caste atrocities. A letter reprinted below, written by Mr. G.M. Thaware, Secretary, All-India Depressed Classes Association to Mr. M.K. Gandhi regarding the condition of the ‘Depressed Classes,’ written in 1941, is telling. This letter is sourced from the National Archives of India‘s public records–Thaware forwarded a copy to the British Indian Administration for their records.
The renowned writer, journalist, director, and producer, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas narrates an important encounter that took place between Gandhi and Hakiman, an elderly weaver woman from Panipat. The story provides important insight into the atmosphere during the fight for freedom from colonial administration that took place on the Indian sub-continent during the first half of the 20th century. Abbas’ story illustrates the function of Gandhi’s persona in South Asia during this period. In his autobiography, Abbas recounts his impressions of Gandhi’s visit to the historic town of Panipat. He notes that Gandhi travelled the country extensively. This was the primary manner in which Gandhi was able to spread his message.
Though images, newsreels, and reports of Gandhi and the freedom struggle were splashed across global media from the 1920s onwards, the British administration did their best to limit his visibility on the subcontinent due to his incredible popular appeal. In India and abroad, Gandhi’s charisma was unparalleled. His celebrity was certainly profitable for news agencies. Yet, while he became a household name abroad, in his own home all references to Gandhi in the public space were subject to absolute censorship.Even foreign films that featured Gandhi and his struggles were banned and confiscated in India by the British administration. For the common men and women of the subcontinent, Gandhi was not an image or an everyday presence, but he was a man who stood for a familiar system of values and a set of ideas.
Satyagraha, loosely translated as noncooperation, was a non-violent “alternative to conventional rebellion,” that Mahatma Gandhi constructed in response to discrimination against Indian expatriate communities in South Africa. In Gandhi’s own words, “it is a movement intended to replace methods of violence and a movement based entirely upon truth” (Gandhi & Non-Violence, 19). The term was developed in South Africa in 1907. Gandhi, founder and editor of the local Indian publication Indian Opinion, announced a small prize for an alternative to the English phrase noncooperation, which described his unique methodology and distinguished it from similar methods of Passive Resistance organized elsewhere. His nephew, Maganlal “won with his suggestion of ‘sadagraha’ or ‘firmness for the good.’ Gandhi altered the prize-winning entry to ‘Satyagraha,’ or ‘firmness for the truth’” (Gandhi, 124).
Haji Habib was, in all likelihood, the world’s first Satyagrahi (practitioner of Satyagraha). On another September 11th in 1906, the Jewish-owned Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, was overflowing with South Asians. The crowd had gathered to plan resistance to new regulations, mandatory registration, finger printing, and papers that were to be produced on demand for all Asiatics eight years and older. Habib, a long-time elderly resident, stood up to a crowd of eager activists to make a passionate plea for faith: “We must pass this resolution with God as witness…. In the name of God, [we] will never submit to that law.”
According to Foucault, the production of discourse in every society is simultaneously controlled, organized, selected and redistributed according to particular procedures. These procedures are meant to “avert its [the discourse’s] power and its dangers, to cope with change events, and to evade its ponderous and awesome materiality.”I Islamic feminist discourse is no different. Just like any other discourse, it contains internal and external systems for the control and delimitation of its discourse. But does this process actually serve to safeguard the proliferation and utility of Islamic feminist scholarship, or does it fulfill a larger purpose?
Many studies of Islamic feminist discourse have failed to address the historical moment in which the discourse emerged. Specifically, they neglect the influences of global feminist paradigms. Female scholars, who theorize sexual and gender equality as part of a larger Islamist paradigm, have been constant outliers within the production of Islamic feminist discourse since its induction into academic discussion. Their work is repeatedly contrasted to the ‘canon’ of Islamic feminist scholarship. Due to its discursive link with global feminism, Islamic feminist scholarship is unwittingly embedded within a theorization of sexual equality that hinges on secular liberal modernity. This article strives to understand the implications of power located within the process of marginalization of Islamist women scholars. It will also examine the larger political ramifications of the disputed label, “Islamic feminism.”