Woman Power ! - The One Defining Image From Karnataka
No comparison with Shah Bano
Often violence and controversy throws up a defining image. And India is no exception with carnage throwing up images that continue to haunt. And so it is in Karnataka where a young female student taking on a mob of sloganeering men wearing saffron scarves has given a completely new turn to the hijab controversy being made to rage across some educational institutions in the state.
New turn as this young woman, radiating confidence, has brought women of all religions together in not just appreciating her courage but also her commitment to her education and her beliefs. And reinforced the gender bond that has women in India facing such mobs, such hideous attempts to intimidate, as they struggle to find their spots in the sun, fuelled by the desire to fight through shackles of patriarchy and prejudice.
What the world has seen in the video is the one truth. This young woman, who happens to be wearing a burqa, drives her scooter into the parking lot of the college she is studying in. An aggressive mob of sloganeering men wearing saffron scarves literally pounce on the prey. The girl is aware of them, glances at them, but proceeds with a confident step to the college building even though this takes her right past the mob. As they shout Jai Shri Ram and heckle her in voices and gestures that many would find chilling, she raises her fist and shouts back ‘allah o akbar’, not once but repeatedly. The mob chases after her, but does not dare touch her, as college officials intervene and take her away.
Her raised fist, her call underlines her fierce belief in herself, a declaration of her religion of course, but a strong statement of her independence and her commitment to her aspirations and ambitions, Do what you may, she told the hyenas baying for blood behind her, but you will not deter me from my path. And for women watching her, the burkha just vanished. And revealed a confident woman whose story every Indian woman can relate to as she has gone through the same and worse.
And as hundreds of women are saying over Twitter even as I write this, they wish they had the same courage, for every woman who has faced Indian men on the streets, knows exactly what intimidation and fear and threat is. And they saw this lone woman facing it, being verbally assaulted, a whisker away from physical assault, and yet refusing to back off. And instead walking into the mob, with pride and confidence and complete dignity.
This young woman has a name but I am not using it as she is really now the epitome of true feminism. And hence has a persona larger than even herself. Her words to reporters who tracked her down later are also all about education, her right to follow her belief, to wear what she wants, more so when it has been cleared by the college administration.
And I personally have to thank this young second year student as she cleared the cobwebs of so called feminism for me. And explained through her spontaneous and courageous approach that what is happening in Karnataka has little to do with the hijab per se, but represents far more than religion and clothing in the current context.
Young women have negotiated their right to wear the hijab with the colleges they study in, with the employers they work for, and have created the space to follow what they believe in. And just as they do not pass judgment on me for not wearing the hijab, for rejecting it as a manifestation of patriarchy, as a symbol of religiosity that Islam never mandated, they do not want me to judge them either. They give me respect, and expect the same respect from me. And that while they are willing to participate in the debate we have all been part of for years now, they will do so as equals and not perceived victims. And it depends on who convinces whom — with chaos such as today’s certainly not helping those who would like more progressive interpretations of religion.
Clearly the current controversy in Karnataka is not about the hijab. It is a communal attack with the Muslim woman being used as the weapon. The clothing is yet again being made the reason for targeting women. And acquiring a justification to heckle and assault them, and create hate fissures in society that fit into the larger political agenda of divisiveness and polarisation.
In exactly the same way that dress is used by the police and those in authority to justify rape and sexual assault. The ‘she should not dress that way’ argument where the blame is shifted from the rapist to the victim. So now it is her hijab, her dress that is responsible for her being pushed out of the education system, for the violence and aggressiveness of the male mobs in saffron scarves, for the vitiated atmosphere. Just like the poor woman who was raped as she wore a dress too provocative for the pervert, it is again the woman who is forcing action with the hijab. Ironically this time she is being targeted not for under-dressing but over-dressing!
Those who compare this with the Shah Bano controversy, are ignorant or crafty. Or for that matter both. I covered every detail of that, and in fact as a reporter joined women's groups to protest the decision of the then government to revoke the Supreme Court ruling in favour of a destitute woman through a legislation. It was a nasty piece of work, where the state intervened at the instance of Muslim fundamentalist groups to overturn a judgement that ruled in favour of a destitute Muslim woman pleading for maintenance and support.
So where is the comparison? What is the comparison? Here girls had been allowed to wear the hijab to their educational institutions when suddenly the order was withdrawn in some colleges. They protested, and insisted they be allowed to sit for their exams. Mobs were set loose to oppose them, vandalising and intimidating and threatening, and declaring their identity with saffron flags and scarves lest there be any doubt. Where is Shah Bano?
Karnataka has to be understood for what it is. It has little to do with the women's debate on the hijab. It has everything to do with making one community feel discriminated against and vulnerable by hitting out at the basic right to education, and through it driving a communal wedge between communities and the peoples of India.