• Rahman Abbas Speaks Up Against the Rape Threats Sent to Shehla Rashid

    An open letter by the author

    February 21, 2018


    Former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union’s (JNUSU) Vice-President and well known student activist, Shehla Rashid was reportedly forced to deactivate her Facebook account after some Muslim youths issued multiple rape threats and sent hate messages to her. Rashid’s “crime” was to speak in support of the freedom to have an interfaith marriage; she raised the issue of the right of Muslim women to choose their partner.  Rashid had spoken up in support of this issue in the aftermath of Ankit Saxena’s death, who was recently murdered, allegedly by his girlfriend’s family members, who were Muslims. In addition, Rashid also referred to the Hadiya case, pointing out that, if Muslim girls are not allowed exercise their agency in choosing to marry a non-Muslim, then the Muslim community also loses the moral authority to criticise the Rashtra Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) accusations of “love-jihad” that they level at the Muslim community.

    In another post, Rashid had stated that when we insist that Hadiya be treated as an adult, as an individual with certain constitutionally granted fundamental rights, we should grant the same agency and respect to all adult, Muslim women, regardless of who they choose to love or marry.

    Shehla Rashid has simply stated what she believes in; and, in a democratic setup, she has the freedom to do so. She has said nothing that is either unconstitutional or sacrilegious. In the Hadiya case, everybody—except right-wing fanatics—spoke in support of Hadiya’s freedom to choose a partner.

    A majority of the Muslim community remained silent after reports of Ankit Saxena being allegedly murdered over religious differences were published. This silent majority seems to believe the same thing that the right-wing Hindu fanatics believe, i.e., a girl cannot marry outside her faith.

    Right-wingers on both sides, i.e., Hindus and Muslims, have tried to curb the freedom of women in the name of faith and religious beliefs. In the public domain, the debate is primarily between two sides, the religious fundamentalists versus those who believe in basic human rights and in the rights granted to us by the Constitution of India.  Rashid has rightly demanded equal rights and freedom for women, including the freedom to choose a partner or lover outside the religion of their family. She has spoken in favor of the fundamental rights and the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

    It is a shame that a bunch of Muslim youths have abused her online and threatened her with rape. The filthy, uncultured, and venomous language used by them is condemnable; it is an insult to women, and a blatant disrespect of the teachings of Islam. Their patriarchal mindset is evident in the way that they’ve attempted to humiliate and attack the modesty of a woman. Unfortunately, no legal action has been taken against them; the legal system has remained a blind and mute spectator. As a friend, I know Shehla Rashid will not be cowed down by these criminal threats. But, I also understand her pain and distress. Having said that, I would still urge her come back to Facebook, because it needs people like her, who speak up against communal forces and take on the fanatics. The youths who abused her have only shown their ugly mindset.   Rashid, for her part, has been one of the strongest voices in this fight against patriarchy.   But, it isn’t her fight alone. All of us, together, who need to fight this reprehensible, patriarchal mindset.

    Rashid has often pointed out that, if we do not make room for love, we deserve to be ruled by hatred. Right now, she has been forced by the hatemongers to deactivate her Facebook account. Her continued absence would be a victory of hatred. Therefore, to defeat hate, we should all ask her to come back and join the fight to reclaim the lost space of love. 


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