Dossier 18: Customary Practices Among Muslims in Gomia, Bihar

Publication Author: 
Geetanjali Gangoli and Seema Kazi
October 1997
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Bihar is among the most socially and economically backward states in India. Social inequality in Bihar is amply visible. In order to illustrate the socio-economic context within which underprivileged groups (including Muslim communities) exist in Bihar, it is necessary to highlight a few statistics from the state. While there does not exist a direct causal relationship between customary practice and socio-economic conditions, both are also not mutually exclusive. For example, in a context where Muslim communities are victims of displacement, as they indeed were in Kundwa Basti, the very notion of a woman’s right to property was rendered redundant.

The Female-Male Ratio[1] in Bihar witnessed the most rapid absolute decline when compared to other states—from 972 in 1901 to 911 in 1991.[2] The proportion of the rural population of Bihar living below the poverty line is 66%—the highest among all states in India. Bihar’s fertility rate (4.4) is also among the highest in India, contrasting against a coercive family planning programme[3] and an extremely low rate of fertility decline. The female literacy rate[4] for girl children above the age of seven years for Bihar is 22.9%—the lowest in India after Rajasthan.

Shreemati Chakravarti and Sunila Singh conducted fieldwork in Gomia on indigenous women’s knowledge of water and health care in Jharkhand. They shared their findings in a workshop held at the Asia Institute of Technology between 7-9 August 1995. This study provides some background information on the area where we conducted interviews. Gomia with a total population of 163,576 (Census of India, 1991) is located in Bokaro district. It is located in South Bihar and constitutes part of Jharkhand (forest area). There are no direct train links between Gomia and Patna, Jamshedpur or Ranchi—the three big cities of Bihar. It is connected to Calcutta by a direct railway link because of a large multinational explosive factory called ICI explosives (Imperial Chemical Industries, headquartered in London) which has a Head Office in Calcutta.

The area is dominated, both economically and culturally, by two factors—Imperial Chemical Industries, which manufactures explosives and the coalmines in Bokaro. Coal dust is as much a part of the area as is the dry heat. The water level in the area has been reduced drastically due to indiscriminate cutting down of trees by the industrialists. The area has witnessed massive deforestation. Just three decades ago this area was home to wild animals including tigers and foxes. There is not much forestation left. In one of the hamlets that we visited in Gomia, we saw children who displayed all the classic signs of malnutrition—protruding bellies, skinny limbs.

The population of Gomia is made up of tribals —mainly Santhals, Oraons, Munbas, Kharias. There are a total of 86 primary schools, 15 middle schools and 6 high schools. There is no government hospital—only a single primary health care centre, three health sub-centres and three family planning centres. The ICI hospital is exclusively for employees of the company.

There are 32 panchayats (locally elected village councils; a panchayat is also treated as the lowest administrative unit in India. ed. note) in Gomia. However, no elections for panchayats have been held since 1978. There is a dominance of outlawed militant organisation called Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).

Rates of literacy are less than 4% among men and less than 1%[5] among women in Chithi village, a Haryan village, while in Khenra Basti, where ICI employees live, the literacy rates are 61% for men and 35% for women.

The process and logic of development in Bihar is such that it has adversely affected Muslim families in the area. Landlessness is a consequence of the construction of a dam in Lalpania. The residents of Kundwa Basti in Lalpania (where 4 interviews were conducted) have been served notice to vacate their homes as the dam is being extended. No official compensation was paid up, nor has alternative accommodation been provided. The argument of the government is that since most of the Muslims residing in the area are “outsiders” (i.e., they had come to the area to look for jobs), they have no right to stay in the area anyway.[6] In this context, many of the queries that we had planned seemed irrelevant, such as those on inheritance. For those steeped in poverty, questions on division of property may well seen an intrusion. There was some subtle questioning of our role: among those interviewed, one woman repeatedly asked us to approach “officers” in Delhi to get her a house in Indira Niwas Yojana, something that neither of us were competent or powerful enough to do. Like many others in the area, she had applied for free housing under this scheme, meant to rehabilitate the poor. Her application was rejected, because in Bihar, the beneficiaries of such government schemes are not Muslims in most cases.[7]

Several dams have been built in the area, depriving many communities of their rights to land. As a woman in Lalpania town said, “We underwent great hardship because land was taken away due to the dam which was constructed later. Everything was lost…My children and I had very little food”.[8]

We conducted interviews with 12 women and one Kazi in Gomia and Lalpania, regarding customary practices among Muslim communities in the area. The woman interviewed were either Sunnis or Ansaris. There does not appear to be a significant difference in the customs and practices between Sunnis and Ansaris in the area. This paper is divided into five sections, looking at marriage, divorce, inheritance, guardianship and family planning.

Section I: Marriage

Ten out of the twelve women interviewed were married. Of the two single women, one was engaged to be married, while the other was an educated woman in her thirties. Both seemed to be exceptions to the general trend to teenage marriages.

For most women in Gomia as well as Lalpania, the age of marriage was generally low. Out of the 12 women who were interviewed, three said they were too young to remember their age at marriage, while another two said they were between 10-12 years old when they got married.

As a woman from Lalpania[9] said, “I was too young, I cannot recall. I was perhaps eight years old. I do not remember anything.

Most of the other women were married between the ages of 15-17 years. A 20 year old woman[10] who lived in Mohalla Darzi and worked with Mahila Jagriti ("Women's Awakening"—a women's organization) in Gomia, was to be married shortly. This was not her personal decision, since her parents arranged the match, but a possible reason for her relatively late age at marriage could be her contribution to the family income.

A woman from Gomia said that in her community (Syeds) there was no fixed age at marriage. Marriages were usually fixed between the children of uncles or among “khandaans” (families) after matching the sects of the families. She had this to say:

Some people, people with conservative views get their daughter married very early. The point is to get them married. They are not really bothered about what happens to the woman after she is married.[11]

Dowry was a significant factor in most arranged marriages. A woman from Lalpania asserted that there could not be any marriage without “tilak” or dowry.[12]

A woman from Suyadi Basti said that demands for dowry also determined the age at which women married:

Some girls are getting married later because of higher dowry. Even the poor have to pay tilak of Rs. 15,000 to 20,000. This forces parents to put off marriages to save money for the tilak.[13]

In most interviews, a question on how marriages are conducted was answered by women describing the high rates of dowry in the area. Dowry is considered essential to marriage.

There seemed to be two conflicting views on dowry. A couple of women felt dowry did not exist earlier. This might not be true because they were perhaps talking of their marriage and not as a general rule. Other women felt that while dowry has been practised over generations, the rates of dowry have escalated over the years. As a woman said:

There was no tilak in my marriage. Nowadays tilak is widely practised. Since I have daughters I have no idea how we are going to eat (after paying for the tilak).[14]

She went on to describe demands for dowry which were either in Rs.20,000-30,000 in cash or kind (motorcycles, etc.) apart from household utensils, and said that it was fast becoming an impossible situation.

An unmarried woman in her thirties strongly felt that the practice of dowry among Muslims was the influence of other communities. She felt that men are responsible for demanding dowry and that parents may look at it in terms of selling their sons.[15]

All women had arranged marriages which were usually formalized through their immediate families. Women did not play any part in choosing their husbands. A woman we interviewed is engaged to be married soon.[16] While she has not seen her future husband, he has seen her. None of the women we interviewed had chosen their husbands themselves. The option of choice is not socially acceptable and by extension simply not available to women. As a woman from Lalpania pointed out, it was not so for men:

This option (marriage by choice) is available to men. The man visits the girl’s house in order to see her. She serves him “paan” or tea and he looks at her. If he likes her, he will marry her and if he does not, he will go back to his house and later convey to the girl’s parents that he does not want to marry her.

Nowadays, men make sure they meet the girl themselves. They do not want to leave it to their parents since they feel they (the parents) might just get an incompatible partner.[17]

Very few women had a formal nikah with witnesses. Nor is a formal Nikahnama drawn up. Considering that several women were married while they were very young, the notion of consent or legal signature is irrelevant. However, in some cases a Nikahnama was drawn up. As a woman from Bhatbasti, Lalpania describes:

The boy’s parents approached us. A paper nikahnama is prepared which is written by the husband and the malik-mukhiya (the village head) of the village. This has the dowry amount and the mehr.[18]

A similar Nikah was described by a Syed woman from Gomia.

Considering that a Nikahnama is necessary to formalise a Muslim marriage, most marriages according to classical Muslim law were invalid on grounds of lack of consent. They are also invalid from the point of view of the legal age of marriage for women.


The amount of mehr fixed during marriages—particularly across generations—fluctuated. For a couple of older women the mehr amount was Rs.400. As a woman pointed out:

Rs.400 used to be a lot of money in those days.[19]

For another woman who also belonged to an earlier generation the mehr was Rs.500. She too said the mehr amounts have gone up and are now as high as Rs.10,000-20,000.[20] For one woman, the mehr amount should have been Rs.500, but since it was her husband’s second marriage, her mehr amount was raised to Rs.5,000.[21]

A woman from Gomia Basti said with a certain degree of pride that in her sect (Syed) the mehr amount was between 14,000 to 50,000, while for others it was as little as Rs.500. She felt this was a paltry amount and was practices among economically deprived julahas (weaving community).[22]

The point to note is that irrespective of the amount, none of the women eventually got their mehr. Nearly all women said that mehr was only paid upon divorce and not during the course of the marriage. One of the interviewees could not recall a single woman from her mohalla (area) who received mehr during marriage though she felt that a woman was entitled to mehr on the basis of Qur'anic law, but that this seldom happened.[23]

A woman from Bhatbasti, Rai Mohalla said that mehr amounts were between 5,00-10,000. It was difficult to think that this was economically possible for families in this area to pay such amounts, given the high rates of unemployment or the very meagre daily earning. This was true for all the other bastis we visited. She pointed out this contradiction, even as she spoke of her own perception of mehr:

The Qur'an says that the mehr has to be paid or forgiven, but this does not happen. And most are so poor, how can they pay? The husbands earn and feed us—that takes care of mehr.[24]

A woman from Lalpania also perceived mehr as the payment of a share of the husband’s daily earnings for the upkeep of his wife and children.[25] Another woman from Bankmod Basti in Lalpania said:

I myself have no demanded my mehr as I share this house with my husband and children.[26]

Most women perceived mehr as a favour rather than a formal legal right. Since women got their mehr only upon divorce, the notion of mehr as a step to guarantee women’s economic rights was quite meaningless.

Another woman pointed out that the mehr also depended upon the amount of tilak. If the tilak was low, the chances were that the mehr would be low too. She said:

My tilak was so little, how could I get a good amount as mehr?[27]

Mehr did not exist as an independent legal right, but was determined with reference to dowry.

Polygamous marriages did take place, though they were not common. There was a case of polygamy in Bankmod Basti. In this case the first wife continued to stay with the man, while the second wife lived separately. A woman interviewed felt polygamy was an injustice, since the second marriage was based on the husband’s personal choice and he favours the second wife.[28]

Section II: Divorce

Divorce is not very common among Muslims in Gomia and Lalpania. However, the threat of divorce is an underlying reality for women. This leads to a situation where women display a matter of fact attitude towards divorce and the resulting dislocation.

Most divorces are initiated by the man and are given to women in the form of triple talaq. Another, less common form of divorce is to approach the panchayat;

An activist in Mahila Jagriti Kendra, described this method of divorce in these words:

Some (divorces) are conducted through the panchayat. The husband states the reason for the divorce before the panch (elected representative of the village council) and the woman has to accept.[29]

The helplessness of the woman in such a situation is reiterated by other women we interviewed. Another woman pointed out that if a man wants to divorce his wife, the panch cannot do anything to dissuade him.[30] However, in the syndrome of powerless—in this case, women—not only being blamed for the ills that befall them, but accepting the responsibility, women suggest that the faults of the wife in most cases lead to divorce. Divorces are said to occur when the wife disobeys the husband. Wasira Khatoon had this to say:

(The man divorces the woman) if the wife is promiscuous, sleeping around and behaving like a prostitute. So many women behave like this. Or, if she cannot conceive. If the woman cannot have a child, why should the man keep her?[31]

Women appear to have accepted their roles as submissive wives. They accept that any transgression, even involuntary, for instance, by failing to conceive, can be legitimately punished by divorce. However, there are women who cannot comprehend why men divorce their wives.

I don’t know much about this (why divorces happen). I can’t specify reasons why this happens, why men want to leave their wives. (All I know is that) when a husband pronounces talaq thrice, the nikaah is invalid.[32]

In this seeming lack of comprehension, there could be a hidden resentment of the unrestricted powers that men have over the lives of women.

The force of ideology is maintained and strengthened by religious leaders. In a misogynist society, such leaders articulate sentiments that blame women for the ills that befall them, even if they are in their own vision, pro-women. For instance, a Kazi belonging to the Ansari clan we interviewed felt that a number of divorces were initiated by women who were unable to adjust to their marital homes. As he put it:

The truth is that girls do not get the same treatment in their husbands’ home as they do in their parents’ house…the girl who cannot tolerate this asks for a divorce. The Committee feels that the parents of the girl should conduct inquiries before the marriage, so that after the marriage, such questions should not be raised by the girls’ side, at least.[33]

When asked why the parents of the girl agree to such divorces, he said forcefully that in such cases, it is the parents who push the girl to divorce her husband.

The girl complains to the parents. The reality is that the girl cannot adjust. In such a situation, the parents should encourage the daughters to be patient. The parents who indulge their sentiments act like this and break up their daughter’s home. Sentiment destroys everything.[34]

There are two conflicting versions of reality that are created here. One, that women are divorced by men for reasons best known to them. Second, that women are responsible for the divorce—either by transgressing socially defined roles or by initiating divorces themselves. It is of some relevance that none of the women interviewed had heard of women initiating divorces themselves, even though there was an awareness that there is a provision for this in the Qur'an. It may well be that the Kazi’s descriptions quoted above are based on his own fears of transgressive women, rather than on reality as experienced by women.

Following divorce, the woman has to undergo iddat, a period of 3 months and 10 days, during which the woman is paid maintenance by the husband. This period is to determine pregnancy, and if the woman is indeed pregnant, she is entitled to support until the child is 2 years old. While the period of iddat is supposed to be one of seclusion, during which there are no sexual relations between the man and woman, in reality, the woman rarely observes seclusion. As the Kazi put it:

There is no connection between seclusion and iddat. The woman is entitled to maintenance during this period, whether she stays at home or goes out. Obviously, if it is a poor woman who has been abandoned by the husband, she cannot stay at home. She will go out to earn money. The iddat period is only to determine pregnancy.[35]

Economic vulnerability in these cases lead to a relaxation in the rules followed during iddat.

An interesting aspect of the study was that all the women interviewed stated that mehr was returned at divorce. The Kazi spoke to us of a measure taken by his committee to prevent divorces, that was to increase the mehr amount.[36] In other words, unlike in other parts of the country, mehr is always paid up at the time of divorce and higher mehr is seen as a way to dissuade men from divorcing their wives without any concrete reason.

When we asked how poor men manage to pay mehr, especially if it is fixed at Rs. 10,000 by the Anjuman, in the case of the Ansaris, one woman replied indignantly that the man has to pay up, whether to do so, he has to sell off his land or his house. As she put it:

If he divorces his wife for no fault of hers, he has to pay the mehr.[37]

A woman in her forties shared with us that in her youth, mehr and dowry was not given to the woman at divorce, while these days, it is easier to get back dowry now. The woman suggested that women get their mehr back these days for two reasons: inflation and the need for a monetary provision is she wants to remarry.[38]

There are, however, cases even today, where mehr is not returned at divorce. In fact, if the divorce is seen as the fault of the woman, her father has to pay an amount equivalent to the mehr decided at marriage to the groom. This is seen as a fair compensation for the expenses incurred by the husband after marriage.[39] In other cases, the payment of the mehr is a symbolic gesture, as in one instance, when the woman was given a sari at time of divorce, not the money promised at the time of marriage.[40]

Attitudes to divorce women range from a casual acceptance to outright condemnation. In all cases, the woman returns to her parents’ home, as it is considered “haram” (a sin) for her to stay with the husband after the divorce. This women pointed out that the way in which the divorced woman was treated in her parents’ house depended on their economic status. A prosperous family looks after her. If the family is poor, she is fed only if she herself goes out of the house to earn a living.[41]

Most women interviewed pointed out that divorced women remarry in almost all cases. One or two, however, observed that it was not very easy to get a match for a divorced woman. As one woman put it:

Naturally, it is easier for a virgin to get married than a married woman. Every one is curious to know why the woman has been divorced.[42]

Difficult as it is, the need to re-marry is seen as vital, as keeping an unmarried grown-up daughter at home is seen as wrong and dangerous. The fear of the woman going astray, especially since she is already sexually experienced seems to be a central motif, as the insistence on remarriage reveals.

One woman mentioned the possibility of hilala marriages. These are conducted when the man divorces the wife in a fit of anger, by uttering talaq thrice, but regrets it later. The woman is made to go through a marriage with another man, and a second divorce, after which, the first husband can marry her again. In such cases, often the second marriage is with a small boy, i.e. it is a symbolic marriage. However, such marriages are not common, and there appears to be some degree of disapproval expressed towards hilala marriages.[43]

One woman expressed a view of divorce that was unique. To quote:

I believe that a divorced woman should be shunned. It is against religion to drink water at the hands of a divorced woman. After she dies, it is a sin to read the namaz at her burial.[44]

The view quoted above is remarkable in that it expresses sentiments that are alien to Muslim beliefs. While there may be a muted disapproval of divorced women, and a discomfort with the danger they seem to represent, none of the other women interviewed, nor the Kazi, expressed such strong condemnation. Nor does MPL legitimise any such attitude. On the contrary, the remarriage of divorced women is seen as a viable possibility, failing which the parents are responsible for looking after the woman. It is possible that the views expressed by this woman are heavily influenced by upper-caste Hindu attitudes towards divorced women.

Section III: Guardianship and Custody

Guardianship rights over children were vested with men. Men usually kept the children after divorce, unless the children were very young. There was also an unexpected link between guardianship and mehr. As one woman put it:

If the woman gives up her children (upon divorce) she gets her mehr. If the woman wants her son, she has to forgo her mehr.[45]

Another woman considered it proper that children should be in the father’s custody. She said, “…why should they go to their mother when they belong to their father? Only if the father does not look after the child does the mother take the child.” One woman also felt that no man will leave his children to be looked after his mother.[46]

There was a consensus that the children would stay with the father after the marriage was over, as the children were seen as belonging to the father. The explanation given for this was startlingly feminist.

If my husband leaves me, I will leave my child with him. Why should I take the child with me? It is his child. Who will marry me if I have another man’s child with me? (emphasis in original)[47]

In some sense, the assertion is remarkable for its unsentimental and practical approach to life. One reason for this is that women who take the responsibility for their children after divorce are not given any support by their ex-husbands. As the following extract from the transcripts reveal, this is naturalised.

There is no question of the woman getting financial support if she keeps the children. In all cases, the husband wants the children. So, if the mother desires to keep the child, it is her choice. He does not provide her [with] anything. Usually, the children remain with the father.[48]

Only one woman stated clearly that in her opinion, the man should support the children if the mother keeps them.[49]

The question of custody has to do with the choices that are present before the woman after divorce. In most cases, the woman hopes to get re-married. Under those circumstances, a child from an earlier marriage is seen as a hindrance by the second husband.

Section IV: Inheritance

The question of inheritance was often meaningless in contexts where people had been displaced and did not own any land themselves. As a woman from Lalpania pointed out, “But for us the question does not arise—we have no land for anyone. We don’t have a house—what can we give anyone?” She also felt that girls did not really “deserve” to inherit since they already had their dowry once they were married off and “only those who did not have brothers get property.”[50]

The customary practice with reference to landed property was completely in favour of men. As one woman pointed out:

Everything goes to the sons. The parents owe her (the woman) a share, after all they have given birth to her, but you know what the world is like, don’t you?[51]

A similar view was also echoed by another woman, “women do not inherit, nor do daughters-in-law. Everything goes to the brothers.”[52] It is presumed that women do not need to inherit after marriage.

Even as women are denied their inheritance rights, some have also internalised this social subordination and believe women should not inherit at all.

Women who wanted to claim to inherit could also approach the courts of the local “Anjuman” could intervene on her behalf. A woman said some women might demand their share if they need it. Even if this were to happen, it was difficult to presume that the woman would successfully reclaim her property.[53]

A woman could only inherit if her brothers allow her to have a share in the family property. We asked a woman what happens in case the husband dies—does the woman inherit in this case? She said, “The wife continues to live in the husband’s house and has a claim on it. Her father/brother-in-law have to give her a share.”[54] For another respondent this happened in practice. Upon her husband’s death she inherited his share of the property. She also gave her sister-in-law a portion of her husband’s family land where her sister-in-law built a house.[55]

For women who are determined to inherit or own property, the odds can be quite high. An activist pointed out the manner in which witchcraft is used to deny women access to property. Witchcraft is not confined any more to tribal areas, but is now used against women from different religions. She cited the case which came to Mahila Jagriti. A single Muslim woman owned a house. Her Hindu neighbours wanted her house and called her a witch. An activist intervened and with the help of Mohammad Yasin Ansari convinced people around that this was done to get access to her property. She silenced her tormentors by threatening to file a case against them.[56]

A woman from Gomia Basti felt that if women claimed their inheritance rights they severed links with their families. She felt that if women demanded rights from their brothers, they would not be able to return to their natal families in case there was some problem in their marriage. She was critical of such women, as it seemed to her to violate some unspoken rules of female behaviour. Women should not feel deprived if denied inheritance rights, but should be grateful if “given” it by their families voluntarily. Thus “sensible” girls did not ask for a share in the property, specially if it is a large family. Her sister, however, was given a share in the family property, though she did not ask for it.[57]

Section V: Contraception

The reality of poverty and malnutrition creates a situation in which looking after and bringing up children is exceedingly difficult. In Gomia, as in other parts of the country, the responsibility for controlling the size of the family is vested with the woman. At a general level, contraceptive methods are not very commonly used in Bihar. This is equally valid for all communities. A study of currently married women in Bihar aged between 13 years to 49 years, who are aware, have ever used and are currently using any modern non-terminal methods of contraception bring this out.[58]

Aware of                          Ever used                         Currently using
66%                                      6%                                       3%

There is a widely prevalent view that contraception is forbidden in the Qur'an, but this was somewhat liberally interpreted by the women we interviewed. Most women had used some form of birth control or the other, but the consensus was that sterilisation was forbidden by the holy text. In most cases, other forms of birth control were used, such as oral contraceptives, injectable contraceptives and the loop. Husbands have no objections to their wives using these methods. As one respondent said somewhat sarcastically, “Why should men object? They are the ones who are responsible?” It seems to us that this statement brings out the hidden resentment that some women feel towards irresponsible men, who share none of the agonies that women undergo regarding these questions. It also appears that women feel that sex is primarily for men’s pleasure. As far as women are concerned, sex is linked to reproduction, whether desired or not. We are not altogether sure about whether women have a sense of themselves as sexual creatures or not. It is possible that a sense of reticence—on our parts as well as theirs—prevents this expression.

On the question of sterilisation, only one woman took a rigid stance on this question, and expressed these sentiments:

The Hadith does not allow sterilisation. Only women who are not afraid of the consequences, do not worry about gunah (sin), about what would happen after they die go ahead and undergo this operation. Most women take (contraceptive) pills. If a woman undergoes an operation, namaaz is not read at her burial. A maulvi who did so unknowingly, was horrified when he realised later that the woman had been sterilised. How can a non-believer understand this? Only someone who fears Allah can comprehend any of this.[59]

None of the other women expressed such a strong emotion towards this issue, even those who themselves do not use any method of sterilisation. As one such woman put it:

I do not use anything myself. (If women do), it depends on their happiness.”[60]

None of the women we interviewed admitted to having undergone the operation. Some of them, however, spoke of other women who had. In such cases, the husbands had consented to the operation, though as one respondent pointed out, the Qur’an states that he who consents is also guilty.[61] The consent of the husband appears to be based on a realisation that they cannot afford to look after more children.

One of the women we interviewed had given birth to 16 children, of whom 14 are alive. The youngest is 2 years old. The woman, during the formal interview said that she had taken some medicine to abort one or two pregnancies but the medicines had no effect on the pregnancy. Later, she told us that she wanted to have an operation, but she would have to do it surreptitiously as her husband and older sons were not in favour of this. She went on to say that it was virtually impossible for her to undergo an operation surreptitiously.[62]

The experience of the woman cited above brings out that the permission of the men in the family was vital before the women can take any important step in this respect. Women have virtually no autonomy in taking such decisions. In this case, it is not just the husband who had a say in the matter, the sons too asserted their point of view. However, this woman was seen as unique—the other women we interviewed in the village insisted that we meet her. The general attitude towards her was a combination of amusement and sympathy.


[1]The FMR (Female-Male Ratio) is an indicator of the quality of social relations between men and women. India has one of the lowest FMR’s (927) in the world. Bihar’s FMR (911) is the lowest after UP, Punjab and Haryana. (Sen 1996).

[2] This cannot only be ascribed to female infanticide or systemic gender bias – both of which still exist – but is also a result of economic change where “…given the tendency of economic development to affect men more rapidly than women: the current lifestyle of women in say, rural Bihar or Uttar Pradesh is probably much closer to what it was at the beginning of this century than in the case of men”. (Sen: 1996: 154).

[3] Sen: 1996: 171.

[4] Literacy rate, age 7+, 1991, % (Sen: 1996:18).

[5] This is much lower than even the corresponding literacy rate of Burkina Faso in Africa – a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world.

[6] Interview with Amtulnissa, Lalpani on 15.03.97. Sr. Jessica from Lalpania provided us with some details of the economic and social status of Muslims in the area. All interviews were conducted in Hindi and translated by the authors.

[7] Interview with Mehmoona, Bhatbasti, Rai Mohalla on 14.03.97.

[8] Amtulnissa, op-cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Interview with Kehkashan, Gomia basti, on 15.03.97.

[11] Interview with Kahkshan, Gomia basti, on 15.03.97.

[12] Interview with Ayesha Khatoon, Bhatbastee, Rai Mohalla on 14.03.97.

[13] Interview with Rashida Khatoon, Suyadi Village, Gomia on 14.03.97.

[14] Amtulnissa, op-cit.

[15] Kehkashan, op-cit.

[16] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[17] Interview with Maimoonissa, Kundwa Basti, Lalpania, 15.03.97.

[18] Mehmoona, op-cit.

[19] Interview with Mohiban Khatoon, Lalpania, on 15.03.97.

[20] Amtulnissa, op-cit.

[21] Interview with Aseeran Khatoon, Lalpania, on 15.03.97.

[22] Kehkashan, op-cit.

[23] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[24] Mehmoona, op-cit.

[25] Amtunissa, op-cit.

[26] Ayesha Khan, op-cit.

[27] Ayesha Khan, op-cit.

[28] Maimoonissa, op-cit.

[29] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[30] Interview with Wazira Khatoon, 15.03.97.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Amtulanissa, op-cit.

[33] Interview with Mohammad Yasin Ansari, Ex-MLA, Congress Party, Kazi and member of Anjuman, on 13.03.97. Italicized words are English in interview.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid. According to Ansari, raising the mehr to Rs. 25,000 is “to increase the financial load on the man.

[37] Wazira Khatoon, op-cit.

[38] Asiran Khatoon, op-cit.

[39] Waziran Khatoon, op-cit.

[40] Maimoonissa, op-cit.

[41] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[42] Waziran Khatoon, op-cit.

[43] Ayesha, op-cit.

[44] Rashid Khatton, op-cit.

[45] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[46] Rashida Khatoon, op-cit.

[47] Ayesha Khan, op-cit.

[48] Amtulnissa, op-cit.

[49] Asiran Khatoon, op-cit.

[50] Mehmoona, op-cit.

[51] Wazira Khatoon, op-cit.

[52] Maimoonissa, op-cit.

[53] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Amtulnissa, op-cit.

[56] Conversation with Sr. Pilar on 13.03.97, Gomia.

[57] Kehkashan, op-cit.

[58] Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Ibid.

[59] Rashida Khatoon, op-cit.

[60] Asseran Khatoon, op-cit.

[61] Shabnam Ara, op-cit.

[62]Maimoonissa, op-cit.