Hijab row: Burn it or wear it, it's her decision

It is the same principle of autonomy which inspires both protests - the hijab-wearing women of Karnataka and hijab-burning women of Iran
Last Updated 23 September 2022, 12:16 IST

How can one not support the valiant protests by the Iranian women against the repressive regime which seeks to control their bodies in the name of religion? If you believe in democracy and human rights, you cannot but stand in solidarity with them. Even those women who willingly wear hijab would fight for the right of the Iranian woman who is resisting the dress code being forced on her. It just can be that in her belief system, hijab is farz, but this is something to be decided by the woman herself.

This right cannot be surrendered to any regime, even to one which claims to rule in the name of the almighty.

Before we talk further, we need to hear what the women and, with them, the men of Iran, are screaming. The cry is for the 'death to the dictator.' So, it is actually robbing of their sovereignty that has pushed the women to risk their lives. Their cup of patience has overflown. Dictatorship dirties you as you feel violated by its gaze on your body. It wants you to remain firmly in its grip. That is revolting for any self-respecting human being. Women and men alike.

It is the right of an individual woman to decide how to clothe herself, how much she'll cover herself, and which part of her body she is comfortable with exposed to the eyes of others. It needs to be repeated that it would be her decision.

For some Indians, not all, this protest means the vindication of their stand against the hijab. Most such Indians are Hindus. They earnestly want to liberate Muslim women from the darkness of the hijab. According to them, poor Muslim women trapped in patriarchy do not understand that they have been conditioned for centuries to think that hijab protects their modesty. They need to be cured of this obnoxious practice.

This is what the state of Karnataka is doing, they argue. The state is performing the role of a reformer by asking Muslim women to leave their religious identity markers outside educational institutions. When Muslim women protest this enforcement, they are called ignorant. Those who have been brainwashed by their men. When they insist that it is their decision, it is said that they are under duress.

People cannot understand why supporting the Iranian women who resist moral policing by their state is not in contradiction with standing with those women whose hijab is being forcibly removed by the 'reformist' and 'secularising' state. The argument is that there has to be one progressive and liberal principle. There are people who are convinced that the hijab is a regressive practice. When Muslim women wear it, it is not their choice.

So, the argument of choice, according to them, is spurious. Regressive practices must go. It is even compared with the practice of Sati. One can see the absurdity of this comparison but not the reformist Hindus who feel it is their responsibility to free Muslim women from the clutches of their patriarchy. They also say that if this practice is supported using the argument of choice, it leads to a reaction in Hindus. That Hindu students started wearing saffron shawls in reaction to the hijab proves their point.

The hijab-wearing students are thus blamed for making their Hindu counterparts regressive. The falsity of this argument. We have not seen Hindus ever wearing saffron headgear or shawls as identity markers. Saffron headgear or shawl is only worn as a response to hijab. It is never worn independently. That is why it is a communal and not a religious symbol. It was worn only to unsettle the hijab-wearing Muslims, creating a competing claim. To give the state an excuse that if it has to prevent the saffron shawls, it'll have to outlaw the hijab.

Those who have done it know they are indulging in falsehood. Those who listen to them know they are promoting and patronising a lie. They do it because they want to stealthily control the way of life of Muslims.

Muslim women cannot be deceived by this progressive posturing. They know what it is. It is a ploy to control them. That is why they prefer to sacrifice their education for their dignity. They are as clear as the Iranian women. They are also not deceived by the argument of the state that it worries about their dignity. They know that it actually wants to take control of their bodies. That explains their daring act of throwing away hijabs and burning them publicly.

It is so simple to stand with the hijab-wearing women of Karnataka and hijab-burning women of Iran. It is the same principle of autonomy which inspires both protests. Why can we not see it? Because we are driven by the evil desire to colonise our fellow beings. We need to look into the mirror to recognise our real selves.

(The writer teaches at Delhi University)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH)

(Published 23 September 2022, 09:18 IST)

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