By Marva M:
“Well, I never supposed that you were brave enough to wear a hijab inside the department.”
“You know, the very sight of a woman wearing a ‘hijab’ hints at oppression”
“Why do you wear this thing in the horrible summer heat?”
These are some of the personal comments that I got in the beginning of my college life. It was problematic and incomprehensible. How could someone be judged and labelled as ‘oppressed’ on the basis of a piece of cloth? This provoked me to defend the hijab as my right to practise the religion of my choice. I re-visualized it as an expression of freedom rather than oppression.
But, why Hijab?
Why do I wear a hijab? I began asking myself. Why does Allah want me to wear a hijab? How does the hijab resist the male gaze? Women gaze at men as well, why don’t men wear the hijab to evade the female gaze? How does it reduce physical abuses, when humans get raped irrespective of space, time, clothing, age, gender etc.? Why does God want me to hide my neck and hair which are certainly his own creations? These are the questions that form a convoluted maze of thought in my mind.
That was the time when we went out to Marina beach, and some playful friends pushed me in the water. Drifting with the salty waves, my hijab got unpinned and floated away. I felt nude from head to toe. But nobody seemed to care; waves, birds, travellers, vehicles, vendors, friends, the setting sun – everything was alright. My hair rustled in the wind, my ears grew cold in the breeze, and I loved it. I stopped worrying about the pins and knots of my hijab. I realized that I adhered to the hijab only because I was so used to it that life seemed unthinkable without it.
Invisible hijabs – A separation to segregation
Different sections of Christian and Jewish women, especially the nuns, cover their heads partially or completely. Hijab, in its literal sense is a separation between two or more things. So, the segregation of spaces and time ranging from separate prayer halls to separate classroom seating are a form of gendered hijab. Our educational institutions wear a hijab, when it comes to gender bias. I still remember being scolded by my teachers for playing catch-me-if-you-can with my male classmates in class 6th during the recess. Our minds have become hijabs, which curtain bodies and minds, making us ignorant. We have a ‘sanskaar’ which is so uncultured that it does not socialize humans beyond gender roles.
In an institution like IIT Madras, heralded as a premier educational institution, there are partial restrictions for women entering the men’s hostels and messes, and men are completely banned from stepping into the women’s hostel area. But those who were worried about my hijab, seemed unconcerned about this social hijab. Why are certain hijabs questioned and criticized, while many others have been internalized and remain unrecognized? Isn’t it time we see beyond the frames of double standards and bias?