First Person

I am not Oppressed, I am the Black Swan

In the past few years, the country has seen a change in attitude towards the Muslim community – from mob lynchings to beef ban, to Bulli/Sulli deals, and now the hijab ban. Having confidently and proudly worn my hijab, I could no longer remain silent after watching controversy in Karnataka unravel.

By Sara Fatima, 12 Feb 2022

Many liberal Muslims and certain historians believe that the hijab is not a part of Islam and that banning it wouldn’t necessarily be an earth-shattering decision. They are of the opinion that the girls adorning a hijab should instead opt for a girl’s institution to study. Though I completely agree that education must take precedence, I do not feel this is the suitable solution to the issue. 

While others believe that women wearing a hijab are either oppressed or uneducated. They maintain that high levels of education and hijab do not go hand in hand. The notion is, “if at all these girls were educated, they would know better.” If this is how everyone around is classifying hijab-clad women, I find it hard to place myself. I am the black swan who doesn’t exist for the world.

I am 29 today and I started wearing hijab at the age of 19 – a perfectly legal age to make a sound decision. My parents, both PhDs in their respective subjects, never forced me to wear a hijab or enforce any other aspect of Islam. My mother, herself, had never worn a hijab till she was 50. I am sure there are many women like me out there. 

I am a nobody, but let me bring forward what Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman said when asked about her hijab by journalists and if it is proportionate to her level of intellect and education:

Man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved, he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I am wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

 It is a popular notion that women cover their heads due to the previous conditioning and under stringent patriarchy. A woman wearing a hijab is seen as a symbol of oppression that needs to be emancipated. No one ever speaks to them to find out what their personal views are. 

If a girl wearing hijab is due to her conditioning – then encouraging girls to cook is also part of our conditioning, making them believe that they need to serve their husband and in-laws are also conditioning, expecting them to dress up in a saree for Diwali, or wear sindoor for a festival is also conditioning, women not allowed to set out of the house for 40 days postpartum is also conditioning, girls not allowed into the kitchen during their period is conditioning. 

We are who we are as a result of our surroundings and conditioning. There is no one size fits all. People who make hijab an issue of “conditioning”, my request to you, kindly help these other oppressed women as well! 

Feminism cannot be simply achieved by lifestyle minus patriarchal conditioning. In the process of achieving feminism through this formula, we are denying women their right to choose. My grandmother wore a saree all her life, but as she aged, it became difficult for her to manage the day with a saree. After trying enough, we couldn’t convince her to wear a salwar suit. What would you call this, her conditioning or her choice?

My saree is my choice, my bikini is my choice, and my hijab is my choice. 

For those arguing that if you won’t leave your hijab beyond the premises of an educational institution, we’ll wear saffron shawls, my humble answer to them is, I wear a hijab because of my belief and faith. It gives me security and calm, the way I dress gives me the confidence to walk and talk. If you feel that wearing a bindi, mangalsutra, a cross or a saffron scarf gives you the same kind of content, I encourage you. But if this is just to prove a point (or gain a political advantage) I can only pity. Unfortunately, you are oppressed by your conditioning!