Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

By Zoya Hasan | Go to book overview

Preserving Identity:
a case study of Palitpur

Huma Ahmed-Ghosh

The lifestyle, attitudes and cultural identity of Muslim women in India are an outcome of their socio-economic condition, and a reflection of the tenuous relationship the Muslims share with the Hindus. This article examines the various factors which serve as indicators of the socio-economic status of Muslim women in Palitpur, 1 a village in Meerut district, north India. It also addresses the dual aspirations of Muslim women to achieve status within both the Muslim community and the wider social system. Their status in Palitpur can be considered to be representative of the status of Muslim women in most parts of rural north India but not necessarily of urban centres of other parts of the country. There exists a diversity of culture and lifestyle among Muslims in different parts of India 2 but what is common is the inferior relationship of women to men. Before elaborating on the position of Muslim women in Palitpur I will briefly outline the economic, historical and political situation in the village since it contributes in fair measure to the present position of Muslims, especially Muslim women.

The Muslims are a minority community comprising approximately 49 households out of a total of 229. Hindus constitute the majority; among them, 103 households belong to the higher castes, 3 and 77 to the lower castes. 4 The Muslims comprise of two biradaris, 5 the Fakirs and the Sheikh Rehmanis. A biradari could be defined as an extended related kin group descending usually from a person of religious significance sharing a traditional occupation and maintaining endogamous relations. A flexible hierarchy exists among the Muslims in India, but there is a general consensus that certain biradaris belong to higher social echelons than others; these are primarily, the Syed, Sheikh, Mughal and Pathan communities and derive their high social status through their foreign

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