HUMAN RIGHTS AND WOMEN: A STUDY OF MUSLIM WOMEN IN BARAK VALLEY OF ASSAM
South Assam is Barak Valley which consists of three districts. In one district, there is around forty percent Muslims while in the two districts, majority of Muslims abound. The huge population of Muslims in the Barak Valley of Assam consists mostly of women. Women surpass men in headcount in almost any Muslim community.
Correct female behavior is said to originate to the laws as set in 200 B.C. by Maru. Among these are [I]” in childhood, a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent”, “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house”.
Following the above dictum, it can be said that the lives of women are up to this modern times shaped by centuries old customs. From the moment of birth, the female gender is already discriminated against and this will only end in death.
The family system is patriarchal and women are not at liberty to claim property even from dead husbands; they can only make use of their dowry if allowed. In Assam, it is almost very rare to see a woman in any decision-making body in any institution.
A woman who deals with economic activities for the family and who manages the household and its occupants, even working up to fifteen hours daily, is not valued and given importance as the man of the household. They can be at times given the freedom to decide on certain family matters as house improvement, education and health care, marriage negotiations, but only upon the permission of the husband.
In urban areas, education and exposure provides women with more opportunities but often, companies that employ women remain very limited and if ever there are openings, women are forced to accept the job at a much lower salary wage than men.
Women can decide on their own how to take care of their body, they can cook what they want and can buy jewelry on their own. However, they cannot go wherever they want to go even if only to their parents and siblings, relatives and friends unless given permission by the man of the household. A very minimal number of them have personal money.
Dowry is still practiced in Muslim marriages in Barak Valley, as in the other parts of the country. Certain issues are taken into consideration to agree on a dowry, whether the bride-to-be is black or fair-skinned, literate or illiterate, short or tall, etc. Dowry that is not paid on time may incur the wrath of the in-laws, even the groom. It is believed that the higher the dowry is, the higher the social position in society.
The majority still exists in ignorance and deprivation. In work output alone, it is said the women’s position is the worst. According to NSS 55th Round data, the Assam Rural and Urban Female Participation Rate is only around ninety-seven as compared to the average rates of one hundred seventy-five, much lesser in extent than Male work Participation Rate of around five hundred. Female literacy rate in 2001 was 56.03 percent while male literacy rate was 71.83 percent.
In rural Assam, it is alarming to note that 79.5 percent of infant girls die before they reach the first year of birth. Anemia is rampant among married women rising up to 69.7 percent. Women’s life expectancy is only 60 years as compared to the national average of 76 years.
Girls who drop out of school is very high, reaching as high as 77.92 percent. The national average for drop outs is 70.60 percent. Among the reasons cited why girls drop out of school are due to the necessity in participating in household domestic and economic activities, lack of female teachers, and inadequate or lack of facilities for girls as toilets and water.
However, studies show that Muslim women in Assam, although under the shadow of customary laws still can be said to be better than their counterparts in other Muslim communities. Researchers also found out that they enjoy certain limited high status and freedom as compared to other Muslims in the more advanced parts of the country.