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Freedom Of Choice : We Must Refrain From Trolling AR Rahman And His Daughter

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A few days ago, Khatija Rahman, daughter of the legendary music director AR Rahman made a public appearance along with her father, bringing hijab into the limelight with a lot of discourse around it. The images made people go berserk and created a ruckus across all social/mass media platforms. AR Rahman was relentlessly trolled for forcibly imposing his religious orthodoxy onto his daughter. The gravity of the situation made Khatija put up a post on her Facebook wall, defending her choice and the right to live with dignity. Excerpts from her post say-

“The veil has been my personal choice with complete acceptance and honor. I’m a sane mature adult who knows to make my choices in life. Any human being has a choice to wear or do what he/she wants and that’s what I’ve been doing. Hence, kindly don’t make your own judgments without understanding the exact situation. #freedomofchoice #Embracingmyidentity’’.

The hijab is always seen as a means of ‘othering’ a section of women from the mainstream social fabric on account of unfamiliarity. The perpetrators of this othering or the hijab critics have historically denounced the use of hijab, marking it as a symbol of blatant patriarchy. Some criticisms also shuddered at the deep-rooted patriarchal conditioning which made women think it is necessary to cover a part of their identity as basic as their face. While we cannot fully denounce the role of patriarchal conditioning in the matter, it must be understood that patriarchal conditioning does not exclusively apply to hijab only. It comes forth in a lot of other religious symbols and more.

While we are refraining from violently opposing the other symbols, it is unfair and unjust to single out hijab from them all and launch an attack. The idea of consent expressed as ‘freedom of choice’ in the Facebook post also came under the radar, as many felt that in an oppressive and institutionally misogynist society it is not possible for the woman to take any decision completely devoid of any conditioned notion. Our deep-rooted socio-religious beliefs manifest in these supposedly arbitrary, free-willed decisions. All these arguments have put forth some valid points undoubtedly, but we must remember that nothing, absolutely nothing can contest the idea of free-willed consent pronounced by a woman. This is the trope on which patriarchy thrives on- first, it will refuse to acknowledge women their agency to give consent; secondly, when women finally gain their agency to give consent, it will nullify its authenticity.

Feminism, in this century invariably means intersectional feminism, where simply not a homogenous idea of oppression is propagated, but women from all ethnic backgrounds are included. In this era, where inclusiveness is the only way for a holistic society, it is unfair to single out and exclude a particular section of the oppressed.

The Constitution of India identifies the Indian union as a ‘secular’ nation, and not an ‘atheist’ nation. It does not denounce the whole idea of religion, rather it separates the state from actively propagating any religious ideas. But the citizens are free to practice any religion of their choice. Therefore, it is only imperative that a practicing religious person will carry some religious marks on his/her body. Ironically, it is mainly the women who have to bear the marks- be it sindoor,shakha-pola (vermilion)etc for Hindu married women, or hijab for Muslim women. Thus patriarchy affects women from all religious backgrounds, we cannot be oblivious to one form just because it is propagated by the majority population (and normalized) and denounce the other as regressive (and thus isolated).

We may have our personal opinions regarding hijab, which is absolutely fine in a liberal democracy, but when the opinion becomes prejudice and is being used to judge, discriminate and harass others, it becomes a menace. It is unbecoming of liberal democracy to discriminate people, just because they don’t conform to the familiar majority narrative. Our personal opinions cannot give birth to structural ‘othering’ and labeling of any community.

Clothing is a completely personal choice and if we denounce the patriarchal dictating of a woman’s clothing, we must not propagate it under the garb of feminism. Feminism never dictates. Feminism thrives on the idea of equality cutting across gender, race, ethnicity, skin color, religion, caste, creed, sexuality and so on. Feminism propagates freedom of choice. We cannot exclude and isolate a whole section of women from this battle against patriarchy, because it nullifies the whole guiding principle of feminism.

We must also try to acknowledge the sense of privilege (of being majority, and thus mainstream), which gives us the authority to label or denounce a section of society as regressive or backward. Whoever is on the privileged side of the status quo, becomes very vulnerable to see a narrative different from theirs. When members of the dominant group believe that their privilege is natural, and accept that their group is socially superior to others, they have internalized their dominant status in the society which gives them the authority to denounce diversity and difference. Intersectional feminism must critique this structural discrimination. We must discomfort the comfortable.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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