And in the course of their defiance take a photo of a man beating his wife. No wonder Darul Uloom Deoband thinks photography is un-Islamic! “Lens on liberty: Muslim women with camera in hand defy fatwa,” by Mohammed Wajihuddin for the Times of India, October 7:
A group of six women are seated in a spacious hall, their sights trained at a bunch of photographs adorning a wall. The photographs were shot during various field trips these women undertook over the last few years. “They tell stories of women’s emancipation, their struggle to find their space in society,” explains Ayesha Shaikh.
Shaikh is part of 16 women whom Kurla-based Aawaaz-e-Niswaan, a women’s advocacy group, helped train as photographers. Though Darul Uloom Deoband’s recent fatwa calling photography unIslamic rattled rationalists, it has pained these women photographers more. “The fatwa reeks of the medieval mindset. Just as writing brings catharsis to writers, photography is a way of feeling liberated,” says Aawaaz-e-Niswaan’s founder Haseena Khan.
Women are surprised that the seminary’s fatwa department, replying to an engineering student’s query on whether he should choose photography as a career, said: “Photography is unIslamic. Do not do this. You should search any suitable job based on your engineering course.” The women collectively ask a question: “What do they tell some of India’s leading clerics who attend sessions of All India Muslim Personal Law Board and happily get captured on videos and cameras?”
Khan adds her centre decided to encourage Muslim women to take up photography as a career also to explode the myth that it is a “man’s job”. “A camera is almost always associated with men. Why don’t we hear of camerawomen more often?” asks Reshma Pawaskar, a volunteer at the centre who too trained as a photographer. In 2008, Aawaz-e-Niswaan had organized a workshop at Khandala. During discussions it emerged that the participants should do something liberating yet not popular among traditional Muslim women. Significantly, many of the women were divorcees and had to look for vocations. Choosing photography as a vocation was something they hadnot dreamed of. Luckily, senior photographer Sudharak Olwe agreed to volunteer as a trainer.
Most of the women had not held a camera before and had seen a photographer only during wedding ceremonies. One of the conditions to be part of the team was that they would have to shoot outdoors. So sharing one camera between two, these women shot choked, open drains, women selling fish and vegetables, and a man beating his wife.
“I was scared to step out of home before I learnt photography. I was shy. Now, I confidently commute to work,” says Shabina Shaikh, who works at a photo studio. Like all photographers, these women too have had memorable moments. During training, many of them would move in burqas by choice. “We wanted to know the reaction to burqa-clad photographers,” says Khan. A couple of years ago, Pawaskar went to cover the annual LGBT rally. Actor Celina Jaitly was among the celebrities who addressed the rally.
Holding her camera, Pawaskar scaled a wall for a better view. “Seeing a woman photographer in burqa, other photographers turned to me and feverishly started clicking. For a moment I overshadowed Celina,” recalls Pawaskar, whose family was apprehensive initially but are now proud of her passion.