are called Jamaats. In predominantly
Muslim Southern India, these neighborhood old boys’ networks supposedly apply sharia
law. However, in practice, they regularly
provide cover for abusive and even homicidal husbands. At least, such appears to be the case based
on the evidence presented to the upstart women’s Jamaats. Deepa Dhanraj documents the efforts of the
women’s Jamaat leaders to redress gender based injustices in Invoking Justice (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s Asian American International Film Festival in New York.
per Indian custom, Islamic law officially supersedes secular law in the provincial
south. It is a nice set-up if you are a
man, particularly if you and your cronies are on the community Jamaat. If you are a woman though, the system is
literally rigged against you. However, a
small but growing number of Muslim women have challenged the institutionalized misogyny
by forming alternative women’s Jamaats.
While their legal standing is rather iffy, especially by the local
standards, the civilian police force has to deal with them. This often means the men’s Jamaats must as
well, albeit rather grudgingly.
kinds of cases women’s Jamaat activists investigate are frankly shocking,
including several cases of spousal murder and one abused wife and mother desperately
trying to divorce her pedophile husband.
The women’s Jamaat founder Sharifa Khanam clearly knows the Koran and
uses it to shame their male counterparts.
Yet, on a fundamental level, they still acknowledge the primacy of
Islamic law over civilian authority.
Indeed, this begs an obvious question Dhanraj does her level best to
ignore: is religious-based law compatible with any meaningful notion of
justice? Indeed, viewers might well
wonder if non-Muslims living in Tamil Nadu have any recourse for legal redress,
be fair, Dhanraj largely adopts the observational approach, only sparingly
mixing in traditional on-camera interview sequences. We see the Jamaat case-workers do the leg
work and build the trust of families seeking their assistance. Tellingly, it is not just women who petition
the women’s Jamaats for help, but often the male relatives of women who have
been battered and even killed.
is certainly eye-opening stuff. However, if ever there was a film that could
have benefited from a little confrontational showboating, it would have been
this one. Ultimately, viewers will feel
justice is not being served in Tamil Nadu and may well suspect the situation is
even worse than it appears in Dhanraj’s documentary. Still, capturing courage on-screen is always
a worthy endeavor. Earning a moderate
recommendation for those concerned about the state of women’s affairs in the
Islamic world, Invoking Justice screens
this coming Saturday (8/4) at the Chelsea Clearview, as part of the 2012 AAIFF.
Labels: AAIFF '12, Documentary, Jamaats