India’s star cricketer Mohammed Shami must not have expected abuse when he posted a nice photo with his wife on Twitter last week.
Shami's wife Hasin Jahan was wearing a sleeveless gown and that was enough for religious fanatics from the Muslim community to fill up the comment's column with cringe-worthy abuse.
'You should ask your wife to be in purdah'. 'You are a Muslim, you should know how to keep your wife.' 'She should be wearing a burqa'. 'It would be better if your wife doesn't live her life according to Western culture'.
These are but a few of the hundreds of horrific comments on Shami's post.
If one looks past the fact that men continue to think they have the final say in what women should or should not do even in the 21st century, what's appalling is that all the preaching are addressed to Shami. A point which further exposes the utterly rotten mindset of the fanatics is that they perhaps don't even find Jahan, a former model from Bengal, worthy of direct confrontation, as if she is nothing more than the personal property of her husband without a mind and soul of her own.
Which is why a tweet by filmmaker-actor Farhan Akhtar addressed to Jahan came like a breath of fresh air.
Dear Mrs Shami,We have never met but I must say that you look splendid in your gown. Regards to your proud husband. With love, Farhan.— Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar) December 26, 2016
Farhan has not said further on the row, choosing to stop at a personal reassurance to Jahan which we are sure she badly needs. But what Jahan, or any woman in her shoes, would also want is to tell the fanatics to mind their own business, to not tell her what to wear or not, to not force their interpretation of what is Islamic or un-Islamic on her and to not treat her husband like he is her master.
And since Jahan has stayed away from the furore and not spoken her side, one expects those defending her to do the same.
Sadly, this is not what we are hearing.
Consider the post by fellow cricketer Mohammad Kaif, who like Shami, belongs to Uttar Pradesh. While it is great that he called out the comments for what they are - "shameful" - what one can't help look past is how he extended his support only to Shami and not his wife. He also rubbished the row saying "there are bigger issues".
The comments are really really Shameful.Support Mohammed Shami fully.There are much bigger issues in this country. Hope sense prevails. pic.twitter.com/dRJO5WfOgU— Mohammad Kaif (@MohammadKaif) December 25, 2016
So, in Kaif's opinion, which has been retweeted a whopping 11,000 times, Jahan's dress is an issue alright, just that it is not the biggest one out there. Jahan's choice to wear what she wants didn't get a mention.
Moving on to a defense by Javed Akhtar - considered a moderate Muslim - what's appalling is that he slammed the abusers by giving a clean-chit to Jahan's dress.
Akhtar's post says that the abusers are sick because Jahan's dress is dignified enough. It suggests that if Jahan was wearing a more revealing dress, the abuses wouldn't have qualified as "sick". Justified, perhaps? The woman's choice, again, doesn't get a thought or a mention here.
The dress that Mrs Shami is wearing is extremely elegant and dignified . Any one who has any problem with it is sick in his mind .— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) December 26, 2016
The comments on Jahan and Shami's picture went viral largely for two reasons:
First, it exposed the fanaticism prevalent in the Muslim community. This is evident from the vehement opposition from within the community in doing away with blatantly anti-women practices like burqa and triple talaq. And how its clergy didn't spare even a sportsperson like Sania Mirza when it issued a fatwa against her "short skirt" in 2005. So it must be kept in mind that Jahan's case, apart from being a feminist one, is also about religion.
Second, it was widely shared by the Right Wing social media users who gleefully jumped at this latest opportunity to bash the community with no evident intention of standing up with the victim.
However, some liberals, perhaps in a bid to burst the Right Wing euphoria, went on to create false equivalences. A 2010 report that spoke about Bajrang Dal prohibiting girls from wearing jeans inside temples, was widely shared by the liberals with the rider: Call out Shami's abusers, but not before slamming Bajrang Dal.
Agree and hope all those who stood up against the muck Shami endured will stand up against this as well. https://t.co/7WwFqjVrkf— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) December 26, 2016
The difference between Bajrang Dal and those trolling Shami is that Bajrang Dal is a part of the ruling party RSS. https://t.co/zE6vroQ6yS— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) December 27, 2016
In an effort to make the Shami case look less evil, they chose to deflect the blame.
The question then is, how did it affect the debate around Jahan's dress? By only making it more vitriolic.
Rather than being about a woman's choice, the discourse turned to 'sort out your own issues before pointing to mine'. Or Muslim culture verses Hindu culture. Or India verses Pakistan.
And where does that leave Jahan and the issue of Muslim women being routinely asked to don a burqa?
Sadly, in exactly the same place where they were before the debate began.