By Saachi Sharma:
The Hijab (headscarf) has made news, yet again, with France banning its use in public offices and state schools and more recently, the Shiv Sena calling for a ban on the Burkha (which is inclusive of the headscarf) for ‘security reasons’. The Hijab has traditionally been perceived as â€Žsymbolic of the overt suppression of gender justice and rights. To what extent is it true? Let’s find out –
1. It is not community or gender specific
Contrary to popular opinion, the Hijab or headscarf does not only pertain to a particular community or gender, that is, Muslim women. Catholic nuns have traditionally worn the headscarf and turbans are common to Sikh and Rajasthani men. The typical rural Indian woman can be seen working in the fields with her Ghoongat in place. In fact, male members of the Turkana Tribe of Kenya cover their head with mud, which is then painted blue and decorated with ostrich and other feathers. Thus, head covering is a practice followed by many communities and singling out a community has resulted in radical and selective perceptions of the headscarf which has further lead to social ostracization.
2. Religious Freedom
It’s very easy, not to mention naive, to take a morally high ground by being outside the ambit of a particular socio-cultural context, however, understanding the nuances of a religion and its subsequent imposition or voluntary adoption is a different ballgame altogether. So long as a woman is making an educated and informed choice, devoid of any kind of societal or familial pressure, we must respect her exercise of the inalienable Right to Freedom.
Noted writer Kamala Das, an Islam convert, epitomizes the principle of an ‘informed religious choice’ based on religious beliefs and faith, bed rocked on individuality. True, many women chose the Hijab due to social conditioning, but in that case, we must enable them to make an educated choice (even if it’s pro Hijab) and not force them to ‘discard’ their religious identity. Change, after all, is not a vigorous chemical reaction; it’s a cauldron of potions brewing on a dimly lighted fire. Any attempt to speed up this process can lead to a catastrophic blast.
3. Women Power – What can a piece of cloth do?
The core belief in the anti — Hijab banter is that it is oppressive, which not only is an anti — feminist perspective, it is also built on shaky grounds. Can a piece of cloth incapacitate a woman to such an extent that she can’t think for herself, she needs to be thought for? That she can’t speak for herself, she needs to be spoken for? That she can’t dream for herself, her dreams need to be shown to her? Clearly not. The Hijab has religious and sentimental value, it by no means belittles a women’s competence or strength of character.
4. The West: Savior of women? Maybe not!
The West is often hailed as the new age Messiah, saving women from the atrocities of Islam, upholding the principles of a functional Democracy, Equality and Secularism. This is flawed in its very essence for it is easy to take off the Hijab in the West, but it is much more difficult to put it on (with those doing so facing employment problems and being viewed with suspicion) and therein lies the inherent contradiction. Respect must be accorded to those donning the Hijab, as well as those dropping it in equal measure, if Secularism needs to be upheld in a Democracy. Selective Secularism will cause nothing but marginalization and the subsequent alienation of a community.
What this really boils down to is an integration based multi — pronged approach, based on the absolute principles of religious and gender equality and mutual respect. It’s high time the veil on the minds of the policy makers and people is lifted and the ‘head’, not the ‘scarf’ is counted.