Speaking against the law is freedom; breaking it is a crime

I had a very interesting conversation one morning. A very dear friend called and said in effect, “Renuka Chowdhury is after Pramod Mutalik because his people beat up girls in Mangalore pubs but did you know that someone has given a fatwa in UP to say that Muslim girls must not go to co-ed schools. I read what you write but you should write against these kinds of fatwas. Why are they against educating girls?” And so on and so on.

So I did some research and this is what I found:

1.    A fatwa is an opinion. A legal opinion according to Islamic law which is not binding on anyone as in this country Islamic law is not the law of the land. Naturally this still being a free country, everyone is entitled to his opinion, including the Mufti who gave the fatwa as well as Mr. Mutalik, Renuka Chowdhury, my friend and myself.
2.    Islamic law is against the free social/recreational mixing of men and women who are not married or otherwise blood relations and so any legal expert if asked will give this opinion that co-ed education is to be avoided.
3.    I was also told that where there is no alternative, girls are allowed to study in co-ed colleges, just as they are allowed to work in workplaces which have men or shop in malls which have men or go to hospitals which have male doctors and so on. The only condition is that they should be properly clothed in clothing that fully covers their body and head as required by Islamic law.
4.    That an opinion to the effect that Muslim girls should not study in co-ed schools is not the same thing as “Muslim girls should not study.” The opinion is not against educating women but against the environment in which such study may be carried out. But if we are conditioned to believe something negative and don’t make independent enquiries then there is no way of reaching the truth.
5.    I found out that the Justice Sachar Committee’s Report on Minorities notes that more than 2 million Muslim boys and girls study in Madrassas (Muslim owned and operated schools which use the Qur’an and other religious texts as the basis of education) in India. These schools are entirely funded by the Muslim community internally and don’t take a single Rupee from the Government of India even though education is a responsibility of the GOI. The monthly expenditure on these children @ Rs. 500 per child is Rs. 2 billion. Yes monthly. Not annually. And that more than 40% of these children are girls. Amazing!! I always thought Muslims were against education!!! Yet the poorest community in India thinks education is important enough to spend this amazing amount on it, even though it is resource starved in so many ways. Yet it continues to be maligned.
6.    And now hold your breath; guess which community has the highest percentage of women who are literate? No prizes for guessing. True these Madrassas are not co-ed schools. But then the purpose is to educate, isn’t it? Not merely to have a co-ed environment. And what’s so strange about that? After all Wilhelm’s is an all girls school. So are all St. Annes, all Mount Carmel, all St. Georges Girls Grammar Schools all over this country and I can name many more. Yet when was the last time you heard criticism about the Apostolic Carmelite Order or other Orders of Christian Nuns who run these schools? Or demands that they should be made co-ed?
7.    Now how about Mr. Mutalik and his gang of goons called Ram Sene? Did they give an opinion? Or did they break the law?
8.    They informed the media of what they were going to do and then they entered a pub and assaulted and injured Hindu girls who were there with Muslim boys, because they were there with Muslim boys. Then they proceeded to talk about the erosion of Indian culture by pubs. These actions continue with the tacit approval of the Police and State Administration in Karnataka.

The confusion in the mind seems to be between having an opinion and acting on it when to do so may contravene the law of the land. The issue is not whether or not we like a particular law. Frankly many Muslims including myself are very glad that someone beat up Muslim boys who were sitting in bars and pubs when our religion clearly prohibits the consumption of alcohol or being in places where alcohol is served even if you are not drinking. So in spirit there is a fair amount of approval among the Muslims for the actions of Mr. Mutalik’s goons. That however is not the issue at stake.
The issue is whether or not someone has the right to break a law in order to impose his will (no matter how well intentioned) on someone else in this country? And the answer is a very emphatic, “NO!” Beating up people who don’t confirm to your code of behavior is not permitted in India and is a crime. And that is where the problem lies, because in our land we have become used to the law being applied, not in relation to the crime but in relation to who commits the crime. So Mr. Mutalik is applauded and his goons walk free and continue their crimes, unopposed. While poor Renuka Chowdhury gets the short end of the stick for speaking out against the failure of the Government to govern.

Such is life, as a dear friend of mine would say, every time she faced something like this. Such indeed is life. And such is the confusion in our minds, where we confuse between an opinion and action. To have an opinion against a law and to speak against it is a sign of freedom. To break that law is a crime. Let us be clear in our minds about the difference.