mid-day editorial: Haj only requires faith, not a Mehram
Even as Muslim women fight for equality and independence in their lives, the story of their struggle brought an audience to its feet at an international film festival in New Delhi
Even as Muslim women fight for equality and independence in their lives, the story of their struggle brought an audience to its feet at an international film festival in New Delhi. The audience rose in standing ovation for a film called 'Mehram', in which well-known actor Farida Jalal plays a woman who decides to buck the patriarchal system to claim her right to perform Haj.
Under Saudi Arabian laws, women are forbidden to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca without a 'Mehram' or chaperon, who must be a male blood relative. Just a little over a month ago, this paper had reported how activists in Mumbai came together to spread awareness about the gender injustice inherent in the system, and to speak about how it is time for the Saudi Arabian authorities to do away with Mehram altogether.
They had rightly spoken out about how we live in a different world today, with Muslim women increasingly travelling solo or in groups to different countries for work or leisure. Mehram, which might have been relevant years ago for the safety of women travellers, is quite redundant now. Activists argued that it was time Saudi Arabia woke up to the new reality and changed the law.
The Mumbai activists - who have been at the forefront of numerous city-centric battles, including the fight for equal rights of entry to women at the Haji Ali Dargah - were aware that it is up to Saudi Arabia to change rules, and that is a tall order. But activism and transformation begin in this way. Individuals decide to take a stand and make their voices heard. As this film proves, awareness may come through art too. These are powerful mediums through which we look at the world in new ways. We are proud of the fact that India has dared to touch the subject. Let us start a conversation about it, and change will follow.
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