Hijab-ily Ever After: Liberated, Strong, Empowered And NOT Oppressed

Posted on May 31, 2012 in Society

By Ayesha Nusrat:

It’s been over a month since I decided to become a Hijabi (one who wears a headscarf and adheres to modest clothing), and before your minds race to label me as the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere; let me tell you as a woman (holding a Masters degree in human rights, and a graduate degree in psychology) why I see this as the most liberating experience ever.

I must state that my experiences haven’t been a walk on the red carpet either. Yes, I do get the expected whole range of strange looks, stares, and glances wherever I go. The most prized of the lot are the ones greatly accentuated with raised eyebrows which I gain when I am on the metro with the headscarf on, reading one of my favourite books, “Female Chauvinistic Pig — Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture”. (It is by Ariel Levy and it is a fascinating read, if anyone is interested). People always seem intrigued to know how I speak the local language fluently as I must have surely come from some Muslim country (2 out of 3 times, it has to be Afghanistan) to wear such a thing. So, I decided that the next time I am asked such amusing questions; I am going to show them my finger — the one with the indelible voting-ink which marks my identity as a patriotic Indian.

Apart from patriarchy, I assure you, Delhi summer will top the list of any hijabi’s archrivals. So at 45 degrees when everything around is sweating, smouldering and burning; I am bound to be asked, “Don’t you feel hot in that thing?” Even if it is the girl at the super market whom I’ll never see again, I almost feel like I am representing Islam and the perceived state of oppression my hijabi sisters are in with the answer I give her. I am pretty sure that no matter what I say, she will hear “My male overlords force me to wear this sweltering chauvinistic, suppressive piece of clothing against my will for I am my husband’s / father’s property much like a cow.

Hot or not (referring both to the weather and the fashion quotient), I believe my hijab liberates me. I know the media and the western world portray hijab as the placard for either forced silence or fundamentalist regimes; but personally, I found it to be neither. I should add here that my parents were pleasantly surprised when I announced on my birthday this year that I am a hijabi henceforth – meaning that I wasn’t coerced into taking it up.

In a society which embraces, if not enthusiastically persuades, uncovering – how can it be oppressive if I decided to cover up, independently? I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. I refuse to see how a woman’s significance is rated according to their looks and the clothes they wear. I am also absolutely certain that the skewed perception of women’s equality as the right to bear our breasts in public would only contribute to our own objectification. I look forward to a whole new day when true equality will be had with women not needing to display themselves to get attention and won’t need to defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves.

It’s no news that many modern, educated women are opting to wear the headscarf and that it is seen as one strong symbol of feminism, asserting an alternate mode of female empowerment – political and empowering in its own right. I see it as a way to affirm that my personal spirituality, feminism and personal space is not for public consumption. The bottom-line is, I cover my head, not my brain.

I know the voting ink will fade away in the next couple of months and so, the next time when my fellow customer at the chemists’ comments “Your country, Indonesia is a very beautiful country”, I will sing the Indian national anthem loud and clear.