By Sumaiya Ali:
I am a Journalism student who wears a headscarf and that’s my fault.
I expect the people of my country to accept me with the individual identity that I have, and that’s where I am wrong again. ‘Hijab’ refers to the head cover that Muslim women wear when they’re outside.
My journey of this experience started in 2009. It was in tenth standard that I wore a scarf after seeing my best friend’s sister covering her head. She was a modern and fashion-loving, young girl. Then why did she wear this piece of cloth on her head was the question in my mind. I asked her the same. Her answer intrigued me. She said, “Try it for yourself.” And then, I wore a hijab to my coaching classes. People were looking at me in shock. I, on the other hand, felt at peace. It was a sense of security for me. And the best part was, the guys who hit on me earlier, instantly lost interest in me.
In the first few months, there were times when I thought whether I made an impulsive decision. But somehow, I knew it was the right thing to do as I started to feel comfortable in it. My family did not take my decision positively. I am the first girl in my family to wear a scarf. They were apprehensive and advised me to take it off in wedding and parties. And the first thing my mother said to me was, “Arey job milne me bahut problem hogi [Getting a job will be very difficult].” My friends surprisingly acted mature enough to understand me. They encouraged me from time to time. It has been eight years since then. When I went to college and some of my female friends saw me without a scarf, they said, “You look so pretty without it. Why do you do this to yourself?”
What I love about the hijab is that I believe, the only thing based on which a person should judge you is your intellect and behaviour. And I feel as confident and pretty in a scarf than I did without it. In fact, it’s liberating. Personal appearance mustn’t count for much. Currently, I am doing my M.A. in Journalism. The world perceives journalism as a highly competitive and bold field. Undoubtedly it is. But people often tell me that I am the odd one out. I joined my internship in a broadcasting channel in my city. A few days passed with me, trying to get a hold of things there. Then one day, I was talking to one of the editors about career options. He was telling me how I should try to prepare for civil services rather than wasting my time in journalism. Suddenly, another person intervened in the discussion, in which she was totally uninvited. Let’s call her Sneha for now.
She asked, “Ye sar par kya pehna hai tumne? Hatao ise. Ese kaise journalism me chalega? [What have you wrapped on your head? Remove it. How will it work for you in journalism?]” I just looked at her.
She continued, “If you want to practice religion, keep it in your heart. Let it reflect in your nature. Why do you have to make it a part of your appearance?”
I responded, “So, according to you, if I wear a scarf or a Sikh person wears a turban, it reduces their working capacity or diminishes their skills.”
“Par ese to nahi chalega. Journalism me to ho hi nahi paega kuch. [But it won’t work like this. There is no scope in journalism.]”
“Nahi. Matlab ab ese koi maulana to TV pe news deta nahi hai na. Tum samjh rhi ho? Koi fayda nahi. Ya to ye utaro. [I mean, you don’t see Maulvis with beards reading news. Do you get it? Either you take this off or there is no use of pursuing journalism.] “
“So, your opinion that I cannot pursue journalism is from the Indian perspective or global?”
“Both. India ya international dono me nahi hopaega. [India or international, both won’t work for you.]”
I asked her, “Have you ever heard of Tawakkol Karman?”
“Tawakkol Karman is the first journalist to win the Nobel Peace Price. And by the way, she wears a scarf.”
After this, she was quiet for some time and as she was exiting the room she started to give me her valuable advice again. “Chalo bata diya hai maine. Wese dupatta pehenkar nikali hai, journalism karne chali hai. [Okay, I have told you enough. You are wearing a headscarf, and yet you have come to do journalism.]”
Whatever happened came as a shock to me. Her view that I cannot establish myself as a journalist was her personal opinion. But the way she was trying to enforce it on me felt like a threat. Not only to me, but to all the people who decide to dress in a specific way, according to their religion. I have often been told and suggested to take religion out of my life as it dominates it. As a matter of fact, it’s not me who has allowed religion to dominate me as an individual. It is the image which people instantly form when they see a person like me wearing a scarf or a headgear. I have been on shoots at unknown places at odd hours. I have travelled half of Delhi in a day for an article.
Journalism has got more to do with representation and investigation than appearance. There is more to me besides a piece of cloth on my head. I urge people to open their eyes and see what their judgemental eyes sometimes won’t let them see.