REVIEW: Azadi’s Daughter: Journey of a Liberal Muslim by Seema Mustafa
Reviewed by Rizwana Naqvi
Muslims in India are the country’s largest minority as well as being the third largest Muslim population in the world. Given India’s history of religious strife and especially of the communal violence of the last 30 years, the Muslim population is concerned about security, discrimination, education and employment. Yet, by and large, it has not fallen in the terrorism trap.
The challenges faced by Muslims and the need for better education and more equitable distribution of wealth are the recurring themes of Seema Mustafa’s book, Azadi’s Daughter: Journey of a Liberal Muslim.
An Indian journalist, Mustafa started her career in Lucknow with Pioneer and later became the only female journalist at The Patriot when she joined it in 1979. During the past 30 years or so, she has reported on stories such as the Shah Bano case, communal riots, the Kargil war and the Indo-US nuclear deal. For her Kargil war overage Mustafa received the Prem Bhatia Award for Excellence in Political Reporting and Analysis.
Belonging to a progressive Muslim family of Lucknow, Mustafa grew up in a liberal environment. According to her, “secularism inside our house was a way of life. We were never taught to discriminate or more importantly to differentiate on the basis of gender or religion. As children we were oblivious to the language of communalism, seeing ourselves no different than the others.” Given this background, Mustafa was able to see and present things in a wider perspective and remain neutral. What mattered to her was that as a journalist she provides the facts.
Mustafa starts Azadi’s Daughter with accounts of her family and the society she grew up in and then moves on to the conditions of Muslim women fighting poverty and injustices, educated liberal women not finding partners and marriage and divorce issues faced by Muslim women. According to her, women are becoming more aware of their rights and assertive and vocal about issues concerning their community as more and more of them are giving up the burqa to study and work. She discusses the case of Shah Bano who approached the courts to get alimony from her ex-husband, Muslim women’s struggle to receive maintenance for themselves and their children after divorce, and the government’s manipulation of the situation after the Supreme Court gave the verdict in Shah Bano’s favour.
The 1980s and ’90s were a difficult period for communal harmony. Incidents such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid, assassination of Indira Gandhi and the Mumbai bomb blasts led to riots and tears in society’s fabric. Perhaps it was the resultant disillusionment that made Mustafa turn towards political activism and join others in raising their voices against injustices. Mustafa criticises the Muslim elite for working to secure their own interests rather than those of their community.
She comments in detail on the mishandling of the Ayodhya dispute which resulted in the destruction of the Babri Masjid, an event that was a turning point for Muslims and their attitude towards the state. Since then, there seems to be a growing realisation among Muslims regarding the need for better education and recognition as equals.
Mustafa notes that from Mumbai violence in 1992-93 to the Gujarat violence in 2002, the culprits of Hindu-Muslim riots have not been prosecuted fairly. Muslims are being subtly targeted in growing instances of violence, she says. While those found guilty of the Mumbai blasts in 1993 have been punished, those found guilty of crimes against Muslims, including the destruction of the Babri Masjid, have not been punished. Muslims are often picked up by the police on suspicion and denied bail. She cites various cases in which Muslims were arrested after bomb blasts. This further fuels communal divisions and reduces cross-community interaction besides adding to the Muslims’ social, economic and educational marginalisation.
Azadi’s Daughter negates many assumptions abut Indian Muslim women. And through Mustafa’s experiences, the book reflects the discontentment of India’s Muslim community with the state and with Muslim leadership.
The reviewer is a Dawn staffer
Azadi’s Daughter: Journey of a Liberal Muslim
By Seema Mustafa
199pp. Indian Rs395