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Muslim women pigeonholed beneath hijab and burqa

Hindu, Muslim, Hijab


Muslim women pigeonholed beneath hijab and burqa

Muslim women are being pigeonholed afresh into pious versus rapeworthy categories based solely on their dress. Writes Agrah Pandit

Imagine a Hindu fundamentalist championing the anachronistic custom of sati or devdasi. He would summarily be brushed aside as a loony. Further, imagine a group of Hindu women advocating the cause of ghoonghat. We can confidently assert that the women who did not observe ghoonghat would not start observing it as a mark of solidarity with protesting women. Any attempt to revive such outmoded and regressive practices have been fought tooth and nail, in the past, by Hindu men and women alike. However, the situation is markedly different amongst Muslims, as evident in the ongoing PFI-funded hijab controversy wherein young burqa-clad Muslim girls protest for their “right” to wear an Islamic veil inside schools.

Ironically, many Muslim women who were not wearing hijab have also started wearing it afresh. Many newspapers reported a spurt in the sale of burqa and hijab across the country. While women in Islamic countries are fighting for their right to unveil, women in India are taking a step backwards, demanding the right of wearing a veil-that too, inside the classrooms.

Women taking out “right” rallies in favour of a sartorial piece that represents violence against feminine beauty and deep-rooted suspicion of women’s sexual appetite is as paradoxical as the conspicuity of veiled women.

Silence of Educated Muslim Women

Islamic modernism that posits that wearing a veil is not a sine qua nonof Islamic piety is a powerful trend across the Muslim world, but is sadly feeble in India. The reason is the silence of those Muslim women who have a voice, are educated and do not wear hijab. By keeping mum, they are missing the opportunity to bring to the foreground of Islamic gender discourse, ideals of women’s agency, equality and dignity. It results in status quoist subordination of women’s agency to male-dictated societal norms, of equality to diktats of Islamists and of piety to donning the Islamic veil.

Predictably enough, Zameer Ahmed Khan, a Congress leader, has now concluded that the cause of the high incidence of rape in India is women not putting on veil! Thanks to educated Muslim women not raising a voice, women are being pigeonholed afresh into pious versus rapeworthy categories based solely on their dress.

The ongoing crisis is an opportunity for educated and non-veiling women to register their dissent against Islamists’ narrow linking of modesty to women’s wear. They could start a unique ‘Not in My Name’ counter-hijab protest to drive home the existence of many ‘lived’ Islam as against a monolithic, all-subsuming Islamic identity that the ongoing PFI-instigated protests attempt to depict. By abdicating their responsibility, celebrity Muslims have not only empowered Indian ayatollahs but are also doing a disservice to impressionable school-going girls. By forsaking the chance to stand against the seclusion—that veil essentially stands for— of half of the Muslim population which also happens to be primarily responsible for raising the next generation, they have strengthened hold of radical Islam in their (and own) lives.

Lack of Conviction?

I always thought defying the veil would be easier than protesting against other regressive social customs like polygamy, child marriage, male right of repudiation, instant triple talaq, etc. More so in a country like India that provides space for competitive moral frameworks, and more civil freedom than Islamic countries. The lack of any substantial counter-voice, however, defies common sense. Don’t we have enough Muslim women of conviction like Egyptian Huda Sha’arawi, who in 1923 discarded her veil, inspiring millions of women to follow suit? Or, do we not have enough courageous Muslim men like the Shah of Afghanistan, who in 1928 supported his wife in casting off her veil in public that even resulted in him losing his throne? It is something to reflect upon.

Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on BLiTZ

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