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#BetiBachaoBetiPadhao? Societal-patriarchal brainwash 'stopping' girls to think deep

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

I couldn’t stop myself from writing after looking at the two pictures of girls from the current ‘Hijab’ row, one of the distressed and the other of the delight. The picture with girls in delight reminds of Gandhi’s words that, ‘If Women come together their Non-Violence will crush the Atom Bomb’. It felt like -- women power is powerful.
However, we know that the power(right) of the powerful women/girls are subjugated by the men since time immemorial in the form of brutal moral police of religion, tradition, and culture, and every now and then as the helpless parents, the academic administration, the politicised government, and even the judiciary. And if the men weren’t enough, the young boys are weaponised to subjugate further.
Well, the Constitution says it all but says nothing. The Article 25 says, "all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health." Further, Article 26 says, “all denominations can manage their own affairs in matters of religion.”
Beyond the rulebook, the ‘yes or no hijab’ is still a discourse requiring a serious deliberation among the girls (women) (I repeat them) of intra-inter religion. My focus here is on being girls(women) and the right to equity over living (with dignity) and education in essence the #BetiBachaiBetiPadhao.

Being girls (women)

It is no exaggeration to say that the Muslim girls(women) from the poor families and small towns are several times unprivileged and thus a case of extinction if not conserved and cared. Besides the poverty and the urban-rural divide, the disadvantages that hover most Muslim girls(women) include, the omnipresent gendered dos and don’ts, the age factor of have and have nots, the intra-religion rules, and then the poor access to education and then the fears of the inter-religion divides.
The girls expressing sorrow and concern vis-a-vis joy and courage over the ‘right to wearing hijab’ are in a common social trap of, ‘What a Beti can/must do’. How do we attain #BetiBachaiBetiPadhao in a country where this way or that way, the (women) will bear the brunt of what manels, and mansplaining will decide and declare?
This becomes all the graver, when girls(women) themselves have unclear idea of liberation, rights, equality and equity. Thus, my concern over these two states of expressions showcasing failure and feat is that both are at the losing end.
Well amidst this, we are at an interesting and important phase of feminism in India. If, the distressed girls remind every woman about the gender inequalities prevailing in this extreme patriarchal society across caste, class, religion, and region. Then, the daring girls must remind every woman that on the one hand, we are explicitly in a struggle to overcome patriarchy with love and laugh to be able to live at peace atleast with oneself lest the society.
But on the other hand, we are implicitly staying into the unruly rules laid upon by the patriarchy. The ‘yes or no hijab’ is a classic case of such social trap clearly signalling that in both ways the girls (women) are at loss and the irony is that the majority are not realising it so.
The problem is that when the girls are unhappy or happy over the hijab, in both cases they are brainwashed by social-cultural-religious norms (barrier). If girls(women) have to fight it out for their existentiality and dignity, how as a society we can aim to attain #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao?
While the path to #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao is charted through education, the path to education is unfortunately crippled through the social-cultural-religious barriers that are designed by men long time ago and now daunted by men for imposition. If we come together to avert this social trap of patriarchy, then we stand a chance of right to equity over education and living (with dignity) in essence the #BetiBachaiBetiPadhao.

#BetiBachao

It is concerning the way the society is reacting to the entire episode. The whole of media is all about the hijab with only few lines dedicated to the hooliganism of the boys. The school administration chose to close the school instead of filing a case against the boys who misbehaved.
The state government went on to close all the schools with no arrest of the boys over the act of hooliganism. Further, the judiciary also went on to endorse the actions of the school and state administration with no notice to both on their inactions and inability to resolve the matter and restore peace. And when you look through the signatories, it is the men again.
If this was not enough, with the decision/declaration of ‘no’ hijab, fathers are claiming the moral policing to not send their daughters to the school in the guise of their protection. So, just wondering how hijab protects a girl (woman).
If girls (women) chose to wear or not wear as their wish, it certainly needs to be respected by all others just like people wearing a scarf, hat, cap, bandana, even dupatta, tie, broach, etc. When this is coming from the right-wing Muslim like this statement, “Mashaaallah your love for the hijab and your love for the victory over you will surely win”, girls(women) should be also asking question to themselves.
Some noted people also made remarks in support of the girls(women) which also clearly showcases the implicit social trap. For example, Priyanka Gandhi states, “Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear. This right is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Stop harassing women.”
In essence it reads rights, but there is a problem in the language of already submitting to the idea of prototyping womanhood which is a concern of the Muslim liberals and gender specialists and rightfully so. The statement got murkier when leaders from the right-wing Hindu and a large section of the media pulled a part/word of her statement for diagnosing for example, the ‘bikini’.
This is the commodification and Bollywoodish perception of women which the most women leaders and the women liberalists alias feminists also fall into the social trap. Then Sonam Kapoor shared a picture of a man in a turban and a woman in a hijab, and questions, “Why can a turban be a choice but a hijab can't?”
To rage more unrest, some right-wing Hindu also made the usual absurd remarks that are new normal in this New India like, “You can wear #hijab, burqa…& can go to a madrassa”, as also often said by them, “go to Pakistan”.
Well, we also hear the “go to Pakistan” in our family, friends and fraternity more often than before the moment one stands with the Muslim. What such statement mean is that if you display your Muslim religious identity or if you support them, you will not be tolerated. This is the worst thing the New India is infected with. Pity!
Another example is the statement by Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, “Refusing to let the girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying. Objectification of women persists- for wearing less or more. Indian leaders must stop the marginalisation of Muslim women.” Well, on the one hand she condemns the objectification of women but on the other hand implicitly supports Hijab, especially given her position that she does not wear it.
Now when a girl in Satna who usually do not wear a hijab, goes with one to the college, that was objected by the others to the extent of forcing her to write an apology letter for wearing. Here it gets tricky, in first place, why she chooses to wear when she is off it already?
Is she brainwashed by some right-wing Muslims to do so, or did she wear it as her wish? The college authority questioned why she put that on to create an unnecessary controversy? What is also bothering is that even if she wore it how does it affect others?
Some people who try highlighting this social trap are a hope in this mess. For example, Gazala Wahab makes important arguments that:
“The hijab row is more than the identity issue. Politicising a college discipline matter is an effort to further push Muslims to the margins, and Muslim organisations have walked right into the trap, not realising that they will end up harming the weakest among their own, ofcourse the girls. Today, with positions hardened all around, the hijab has been elevated to the level of a critical Islamic identity.
“And well-meaning activists regard it as a matter of a woman’s choice. Both positions are flawed. And as far as choice is concerned, in a conservative society, the moment something is linked with religion, it is no longer a matter of choice. It is a religious obligation. Muslim women who say that wearing the hijab is their choice gloss over the fact that they wear it because they believe their religion asks them to do so.
“I have no problem with Muslim women wearing whatever they wish to. My problem is with wannabe Muslim leaders who have once again reduced the question of Muslim rights and dignity to identity. It’s a throwback to 1964, when the Muslim intelligentsia got together to fight, not for Muslim lives and livelihood but identity. That’s what hurts. We have been running so hard to stay in the same place for 75 years.”

How #BetiPadhao?

Education institutions do have their dress codes since ever so are the girls wearing the hijabs since ever. Comedian Aakash Banerjee asked, “Why we are seeing a student vs student battle over dress code....??” The answer is simple, ‘Divide and Rule’. The political economy of the electoral benefits to the ruling party are huge if the youth are divided.
Gazala Wahab argues that, “The student community will become more polarised, leading to segregation within colleges.” Not to forget history that the power of youth is immense to even turn the governments. Today, in this dismal state of democracy in the country, it is no exaggeration to say that the youth have showcased their power in both the CAA-NRC and the Farm Laws protest, which of course, no ruling party can digest easily.
So, the ‘yes or no hijab’ issue now raging across the state and the country hints sheer political agenda. There have been aggressive attacks on the educational institutions during the CAA-NRC protests by the youth further led by the women movement of the Shaheen Bag. There has been a systematic suppression of the educational institutions be it JNU, JMI, AMU, BHU … and many more through the communal poisoning but the gender aspect which is prevailing since ever makes the case of Muslim girls more vulnerable.
Anyway, the education has had immense toll in the Corona time. Then the average Muslim girls are more deprived on the opportunity to study and when the few are studying, if they are harassed so badly, we send a derogatory signal to them, their parents and to other young girls and their parents. Further, we need to also think the kind of environment we are providing to the children and the youth, an environment of hate, fear, violence, injustice and sheer lack of social security for citizen.
Gazala Wahab rightly argues, “It will progressively become more difficult for Muslim girls to access mainstream educational institutions. The student community will become more polarised, leading to segregation within colleges.” We need to think about the kind of citizenry we are curating at the educational institutions
Educational institutions are the real religious places of any civilisation. Lest we forget that an evolved and developed society is one where women is safe and respected. Well, education aka #Beti Padhao, is considered the only way to empower the women and bring out of the patriarchal misery. While we worship tons of women goddesses, we tend to be miser when it comes to respecting the very living women all around us.
Reminds me of Sarojini Naidu on her anniversary who advocated on the education of women all her life and said: “Educate your women and the nation will take care of itself, for it is true today as it was yesterday and will be to the end of human life that the hand that rocks the cradle is the power that rules the world.”

Way forward

A premier civil society network, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), while condemning the entire event saluted the girls for showing courage by resisting the ‘apartheid’ attitude to deprive them of access to education. The tricky part here is the society’s support for the girls askance versus the silence over the boy’s hooliganism.
In their public appeal the Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD) while condemning the event accepts the principle of uniforms for schools/pre-university colleges so long as they are religion-neutral and non-discriminatory and suspects that the unilateral and abrupt decision to bar entry of hijab wearing girls in the classrooms is a capitulation to divisive politics.
At the same time, the IMSD clearly states its disagreement over the claim of the agitating Muslim girls that their demand is in conformity with the Constitution-protected fundamental right to freedom of religion. It states:
“The belief of hijab is of the orthodox and the patriarchal clerics and any number of modern-day Islamic scholars, men and women, rightly maintain that hijab has nothing to do with the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet. The veil, in other words, is not mandatory in Islam. All that the Quran asks of both Muslim women and men is that they dress ‘modestly’ and 'decently'. 
"Beyond that the Quran does not specify a particular dress code. The mode of dress of men and women in different countries and cultures is different. So long as they are ‘modest and decent’ Muslims are free to adopt any style of dress.”
I am no one to speak on, ‘yes or no hijab’ but I am not a proponent of it either. To me, it is like the way in Hindu, we are expected/pushed to wear sindoor, bindi, bichhia, mangalsutra, ghunghat when married and wear dupatta even in jeans in some families. Well, having defied them as Hindu Beti-Bahu, I believe that these are trivial matters to characterise any individual.
The societal-patriarchal brainwash is stopping us girls (women) from thinking deep and we make our case weak by not distinguishing between religion and culture. More so, if a religion cannot be to liberate one’s thoughts towards humanity, it is not worth following. If a culture is non-inclusive of all and exclusive for some, it needs to be contested.
So, when a Class 12 topper girl from Kashmir reacts to online trolling saying, “Don’t need to wear hijab to prove myself a good Muslim”, you know that the change is right around the closed door and education has the key to open that door. And when a girl walks past courageously (I am sure she was fearful too) the bunch of shamelessly screaming boys to go to the college to attend her academic duties, you know that the girls(women) have come a long way inching towards claiming their rights to live and education.
The issue ‘yes or no hijab’ in the educational institutions where a uniform dress code is in place is something to be sorted out between the agitators and the managements of the concerned institutions. A dispute between few students and management should not have been blown into a Hind-Muslim issue.
Further, it is the responsibility of the state to ‘uphold’ the constitutional right to education, faith and non-discrimination. It is also the responsibility of the judiciary to provide us hope and trust over justice system as the judgement on this matter will set precedent in the country for long, long time.
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*Click here to know about the author: www.mansee.in

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