In my last rant I mentioned an upcoming Ulema conference in Lucknow, which promised to bring Shia and Sunni clerics together to counter "Talibani ideology". It was organized by the "World Waseela Front", a new outfit in which the main Shia clerical family of Lucknow, more precisely Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, joins hands with Barelvi leaders from the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board, namely Maulana Baba Ashraf. As expected, there were no women involved (apart from two photo journalists), but the two days were nonetheless very interesting, revealing, and, yes, even inspiring (picking up at least some of my concerns regarding contemporary Islamic trends in India).

Sorry, I have to go on a rant today, I can't bear it anymore. Don't expect an argument - just pure outrage. And an unlikely follow-up to my last post.

First thing in the morning I read this article (recommended), then that one (outrageous). Next came memories of all the ridiculous insecure-aggressive young men I encounter on Lucknow's streets on a daily basis. Memories of the conversations I have with the few female friends and equally few sane male ones, which hammered home how Indian men are foremost sons - first of their mothers, then of their wifes - but never grownups. Back came Memories of my colleague's and friend's recent talk at Delhi University about the shocking moral policing she encounters in Madras hostels as part of her research. And then more general memories of over a year of living in a misogynist environment, an environment more often than not presented to me as the height of morality.

One of the conceived wisdoms of my discipline holds hat it's usually women who bear the fallout of groupism.1 Women are told to uphold "traditional values", women have to be protected from honor attacks on men, in short: women are the signifier of community. I was thus surprised when I discovered last week that the rise of groupism in India seems to have an impact on male Muslim names - but not on female ones. Many of the most prominent male names among Muslims have a religious connotation, whereas female names tend not to. We also saw that female names are much more diverse, with less clear trends. Take today's picture as an example, an election hoarding in Lucknow's recent municipal polls: the woman candidate is a Saniya - no religious meaning - but her husband (included here, of course, since he runs the show even if his ward became a woman's reserved seat this time around) is a Mohammad.

  • 1. A term coined by Rogers Brubaker, which I still adore...

If you were to meet the stereotypical Muslim couple in Lucknow, she would be called Noor, he Mohammad (but prefer to abbreviate his name to Mohd or Md) and their last name would be Ali - these are the three most prominent Muslim names found on Lucknow's electoral rolls right now. The runner-ups are Nasreen, Naseem, Sima and Parveen on the female side, Abdul, Ahmad, Ali and Saif on the male side and Ahmad, Bano, Khatun and Khan as far as lastnames go.1 What is interesting is to see how the frequency of these names change over time - and how gender plays a role in this. Let's have a look at male firstnames first (click on the image for a larger version):

  • 1. I should clarify that single names - if found on the electoral rolls - count as lastnames here...

There was a time in the 1990s when political commentators joked about Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his attempts to woo Muslim voters by calling him a "Maulana", an Islamic scholar. With the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the talk of "Muslim vote banks" returned with vehemence - and many political observers attributed the clear SP victory to a "return" of Muslims to the party. In their surveys, political scientists did, however, not find any evidence for such a return (see here and here).

In today's blog - based on a draft paper I presented last week at Aligarh Muslim University - I argue that this contradiction might be resolved through closer attention to the local level. Based on my work with electoral roll data (see here, here and there), I unpack the "Muslim vote" hypothesis at the example of urban Lucknow. There, Muslims indeed voted more for SP - but not more than they always did (which might be different at different times, in other parts of Uttar Pradesh, or even in rural parts of Lucknow). This localized perspective nicely complements, but also complicates, existing assesments of the "Muslim vote". Since I am currently broadening the analysis to the whole of Uttar Pradesh, today's post is thus also an appetizer for a larger argument in the making.