"In times like ours when a country that has 'secular' engraved in its constitution, a country normalized with public display of faith — India — has been seeing a drastic change in its freedom of many things but not only choice. With an increasingly politically polarized divide, this reality of banning Hijab is another added anecdote plopping over the heap of efforts to silence and marginalize everything and anything that is not saffronized."
Vandana Dubey writes eloquently about the unexplored shades of the hijab ban.
As social media debates take place to create their own butterfly effects, in the background, all of us can't help but wonder why it is so hard to understand the concept of freedom of choice for a significant half of us.
However, we all are witnesses of this outcasted nature of freedom itself. The daily life of an ordinary man with a nine to five job knows it the best. A young woman walking guiltlessly aside a road above the cautional curfew of nine in the night lives it. The usual hierarchy is proof of it. The Brahmin Bahujan dichotomy, the queer and straight gender essentialism, the privileged white and oppressed Black, the existing capitalist system versus the socialist paradise, Jeff Bezos' millions and millions dancing on Bo Burnham's classic ode to disaster capitalism — including but not limited to — are a living validation to the decades-old conflict of opinions between people when it comes to freedom of choice.
However, like most conflicts, the repercussions of this debate are borne mostly by one side of the spectrum alone. Thus, when a friend from a marginalized, minority community goes on house hunting and comes back home empty-handed, you can hear the cacophony of the said conflict. Above all, it is still hard to understand this complicity of the humanness of us — among the facile amongst us.A month ago, in the same way, when some ordinary women students on an unordinary day were told they aren't allowed to enter the education institution because of their choice of clothing, we again hear the same jarring sounds and are left dumbfounded with an unusual sense of ease that has settled in us with the numbness that has been shed upon us through continues complicity.
This action of banning Hijab on the education premises on the garb of uniformity is not inclined under the orthodoxical boundaries of robbing women-off of their right to choose. But in times like ours when a country that has 'secular' engraved in its constitution, a country normalized with public display of faith — India — has been seeing a drastic change in its freedom of many things but not only choice. With an increasingly politically polarized divide, this reality of banning Hijab is another added anecdote plopping over the heap of efforts to silence and marginalize everything and anything that is not saffronized.
Many on social media, including the famous and infamous actress Kangana Ranawat writes to enlighten Muslim women- asking them not "to cage themselves and learn to liberate." While forgetting to utter even a word when a 19-year-old student walks to her college campus wearing her religious right and constitutionally endorsed — Hijab — followed by the hundreds of saffron Gamcha wearers railing towards her chanting "Jai Shree Ram." Among all this, there's a question that silently tiptoes inside this whole conundrum. Lila Abu-Lughod profoundly asked this question in her book: Do Muslim Woman need Saving? Lughod asks the world, what motivates particular individuals and organizations to rescue Muslim women? It's a question that profoundly answers the desperate need of global actors to save oppressed Muslim women and the role of Islam in the oppression it allegedly imposes.
Many who have worked on British Colonialism in South-East Asia have noted the use of the woman question in colonial practices where intervention into Sati, Child Marriage and other practices were used to justify the rule. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (a post-colonial feminist) cynically puts it, "White men saving brown women from brown men," writes Lila Abu-Lughod explaining the historical efforts of general people and organizations to save women from their own culture in order to benefit themselves.
Lughod also quotes the western work in Afghanistan and remembers the multiple invitations sent to her during the course of TV news programs revolving around Islam and women. She remembers at a time when explanations and debates of historical and political events exploring questions and answers on war and human suffering should have been stirring, scholars and experts were called to discuss religious and cultural matters. She explains how post 9/11, America illustrated the image of the Hijab as a symbol of oppression by the hands of Muslim men and Islam itself in order to justify the bombings and human suffering it had caused in the region.
As Laura Bush, the wife of the then US President George Bush, put it out, "the fight against terrorism is also a fight against rights and dignity of women," in her speech justifying the US intervention in Afghanistan as a pathway to liberate the Afghan and more specifically, the Muslim women from the oppression posed on them while completely ignoring about the American engineered poverty, hunger, and human suffering in the region.
Anthropologist Hanna Papanek who worked in Pakistan for a couple of years, called the veil in Islam "portable seclusion." She noted that many saw it as a liberating invention. Since it enabled women to move out of segregated living spaces while still observing the basic moral requirements of separating and protecting women from unrelated men.
Many Muslim women also see the veil, not as oppression or a symbol of their agency being taken away but instead perceive it as a submission to god. In India, usual activities in day-to-day lives such as walking on a road or lunching at a restaurant can be a spectacle of diversity to foreign eyes. A Sikh man wearing a Turban, a nun wearing a veil along with her religious robe, and a Hindu woman can be seen having a ghooghant — such symbols of faith and diversity are common to the pair of Indian eyes. Still, a Muslim women's Hijab is found to be intimidating even today.
While Muslim feminists and general Muslim women see Hijab as many things but a symbol of her oppression, we all could come to question ourselves and the gaze we perceive the veil with. Perhaps it is time for us, too, to drop this western idea of feminism of saving women through making so-called wrong choices instead of focusing our concerns towards the policies and conditions we put out, creating adverse economic and social surroundings for such alienated beings.
In conclusion, banning the Hijab does not liberate women; rather, it is an insult to Muslim women when we take away their agency to make their own decisions while equating women's liberty to the amount of skin exposed with our westernized gaze.