“Hijab-clad student in Bengal college ‘harassed’ by Jai Shri Ram chanting men,” reads the headline to which my mother responded with a worried face “Let me accompany you to your examination centre. It’s not safe out there.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured her, “I will be all right.”
Even though I comforted her but I knew it wasn’t all right. A part of me was afraid. No matter how much I feigned being strong, the fear of becoming another ‘Hijab-clad student’ was there in me.
I know I shouldn’t be living with this fear. In fact, no one should. But it is the harsh truth. It haunts every Muslim woman who wants to practice her right. It’s the mocking truth of present-day India—the current regime: We are not free to make choices that are solely ours.
Going back to an incident that happened with me in October 2018 when I had gotten an internship as an educator in a prominent school of New Delhi. The headmistress of the school told me that I should not be allowed there because of what I was wearing—Hijab. I was told that “My religion should not come in between my professional life and attire like this must not be allowed in the teaching profession.”
She evidently said these things out of her Islamophobic mentality as there was no prescribed dress-code of the school. And the irony was she herself was wearing all sorts of religious ornamentations which—I believe—is her right and a matter of choice, which she can openly practice.
It shattered me when my father asked me to “stop being an identifiable Muslim” because he was worried, I might become a subject of hate that the current regime fuels. However, I will proudly embrace my identity because I’m more than assumptions and hate against Muslim women.
This is today’s India where you have to be apologetic for your choices and practising your rights. We have to be fearful of belonging to a particular community. Is this how we have to live now?
Women who wear hijab become soft targets of these Hindutva forces. However, this does not mean that hate crimes have a different meaning for Hijabi women than other Muslims. Veil just marks them as targets for hate crimes.
Such cases of harassment lead to hindering in asses of public spaces for Muslim women, leading to their exclusion, and oppression.
The unnaturally curious looks that people give me never fail to leave me amused. At times, I get hateful glares as there is a ubiquitous fear of Muslims, particularly women in a Hijab or an Abaya. I’m angry about the fact that the politics of hate and polarisation has led to these stereotypes and prejudices against us.
The idea that all Muslim women are oppressed and somehow need to be rescued and liberated was used by Narendra Modi for maintaining his larger than life image whereas, members of his party issued public statements for raping Muslim women after digging their dead bodies out of their graves. In fact, one can see it from the Islamophobic policies that BJP makes. For starters, the triple talaq bill that was introduced to rescue Muslim women was actually intended to criminalize Muslim men. Had they cared so much, it’s IT cells wouldn’t be giving rape threats and making porn clips of Muslim journalists and women.
The amount of hate that the current regime has spread has caused me to go out of my way to show others that we are good people. It makes me angry that I don’t feel safe anymore. I am targeted and discriminated because of my religious orientation and my choice of dress.
If I were to give a message to the government, it is this: Your ‘Muslim sisters’ will not treat you with silence, while you continue to dehumanize us. We will go out there and reclaim our public spaces because we belong here. We will not let you be our messiah while we are being attacked and targeted on a daily basis.
Where were you when Najeeb’s mother was thrashed on roads for getting justice for his son? We will not let you produce more Bilkis Bano. We will seek justice for all the woman like Gauri Lankesh out there who gave up their lives for questioning you. We will take the rights that are ours. We will take the justice that we deserve. Even if you are blind and deaf to our plights, we will make our voices heard.