4 years in the past, once I was travelling throughout the northern Indian state of Haryana to report on “rape tradition” there, I met a slight-bodied younger girl at a neighborhood district court docket. She, a Dalit, was there to battle a case in opposition to 4 upper-caste males who had raped her.
We spoke for a number of hours. She informed me about her latest separation from her husband of eight years and the bodily violence she confronted, together with repeated rape, all through her marriage.
What struck me was that she was valiantly combating a authorized battle in opposition to strangers who raped her, however had by no means thought of submitting a case of home abuse in opposition to her husband. Her story made me realise that ladies don’t all the time make decisions that seem trendy and progressive. That their decisions are knowledgeable by the social, historic and private contexts they exist in. That feminism doesn’t have one face.
The continued hijab controversy within the southern Indian state of Karnataka made me consider that younger girl in Haryana. Why? As a result of in Karnataka, younger Muslim women are combating their colleges, Hindu right-wing mobs, the state authorities and even the state’s judiciary to have the ability to preserve their hijabs on in school rooms. That is unquestionably a feminist wrestle – in spite of everything, these ladies are combating in opposition to patriarchal makes an attempt to police their costume. However not everyone seems to be seeing it that approach.
Hindu right-wing teams, and even sure sections of India’s elite intelligentsia, seem satisfied that these ladies will need to have been “brainwashed” by their oppressive households or the Islamic orthodoxy to wish to put on this garment. Smartphones and tv screens throughout the nation are crammed with provocative stories and pictures implying that younger Muslim ladies wouldn’t have company. That they have to be tricked into pondering this manner. That they have to be saved from their very own households and tradition – they have to be saved from themselves.
After all, these factors of view usually are not sprouting out of the bottom fully organically. Amid elections in 5 states, together with India’s most populous and maybe politically important state Uttar Pradesh, there have been political machinations at play. The hijab controversy was being amped up by the governing BJP and the broader Hindu proper wing to legitimise and whitewash their anti-Muslim attitudes and rally their supporters behind an emotive trigger throughout elections.
The Hindutva mission to ‘save’ Muslim ladies
As scholar Hilal Ahmed just lately wrote, the “Hijab controversy has uncovered the interaction between patriarchy and communalism” in India. However that is by no means a latest improvement – the Hindu proper wing has been pretending to “save” Muslim ladies from Muslim males to additional their very own anti-Muslim agenda for many years.
For instance, in 1986, when the Congress authorities handed an act that overturned the Supreme Court docket’s Shah Bano resolution – which had established that Muslim divorcees are entitled to gather alimony from their former husbands like divorcees from different religions, and was opposed fiercely by some Muslim teams – the BJP emerged as one of many fundamental defenders of the rights of Muslim ladies. Their fundamental gripe was, after all, the “appeasement” of the Muslim neighborhood by the Congress authorities, however they nonetheless offered themselves as working to save lots of Muslim ladies from Muslim males.
Some 30 years later, in 2019, they as soon as once more tried to imagine the function of the “saviour of Muslim ladies”, once they handed laws criminalising triple talaq (Muslim immediate divorce). By no means thoughts that the exact same occasion, and mobs related to it, have been behind numerous insurance policies, legal guidelines and violent agitations, from the tearing down of the Babri Masjid to the discriminatory citizenship legal guidelines, that devastated Muslim communities, together with numerous Muslim ladies, over time.
The BJP’s obvious urge to “save” Muslim ladies, after all, doesn’t point out any actual concern over their wellbeing and, in actual fact, has little or no to do with them. Typically, within the politics of saving, the one that is being “saved” is much less essential than the particular person from whom they’re being “saved”. For the Hindu proper wing too, the particular person they’re “saving”, the Muslim girl, is of little significance – the one which issues is the particular person they’re saving her from: the oppressive, violent, sexually deviant Muslim man. The Muslim girl is nothing however a instrument to vilify the Muslim man.
And that is the first purpose why the Hindu proper wing is attempting to stop Muslim ladies from sporting the hijab regardless of their protests: Their efforts don’t have anything to do with “saving” ladies, and every part to do with making Muslim males, and Islam on the whole, seem backward and oppressive.
The hijab via the Western gaze
Feminist critic Gayatri Spivak, in her influential essay, Can the Subaltern Converse, famously outlined the abolition of the Hindu ceremony of sati (self-immolation of girls after the dying of their husbands) in India by the British as “a case of white males saving brown ladies from brown males”.
Since then, the phrase has routinely been used to explain Western pretences to “save” brown ladies, particularly Muslim ladies, from their very own tradition and communities, with the ulterior motive of demonising – and even criminalising – Muslim males, and furthering the West’s personal political and strategic agendas. And for the West, “saving brown ladies from brown males” has remained a main excuse for wreaking havoc on the remainder of the world for hundreds of years.
After the 9/11 terror assaults, for instance, the US tried to categorise its invasion of Afghanistan as an try and “save” Afghan ladies. In November 2001, then First Woman Laura Bush delivered a radio deal with to the nation, claiming that America’s “battle in opposition to terrorism” in Afghanistan was concurrently a “battle for the rights and dignity of girls”.
Hijab – and different kinds of head and face coverings utilized by Muslim ladies the world over – has lengthy been on the centre of those efforts. Certainly, the West has traditionally considered the hijab as an emblem of feminine oppression and waged quite a few authorized and cultural wars in opposition to it, typically regardless of the protestations of the ladies sporting it.
It’s hardly stunning that an virtually similar conflict in opposition to the hijab is presently being waged in India supported by sure sections of the intelligentsia.
Through the years, many within the higher echelons of Indian society, each these on the left and the precise, adopted a Western gaze, and got here to see the hijab the best way white individuals do: an emblem of oppression, a cry by Muslim ladies to be “saved”.
In the long run, the continuing hijab controversy in Karnataka isn’t solely an interaction between patriarchy and communalism but in addition the adopted Western gaze. Hindu nationalists who’re claiming they’re on one more mission to save lots of Muslim ladies, in opposition to their will, from Muslim males and tradition, are simply enjoying the identical recreation they’ve performed for many years. These supporting this “saviour narrative” and likewise claiming to be “feminists”, in the meantime, are adopting tropes lengthy utilized by the West to subjugate, rule over and devastate the World South.
So how ought to feminists, and anybody else who claims to care for girls’s rights, reply to this newest controversy? Properly, they need to shed their conceitedness and acknowledge that Muslim ladies don’t want “saving” – neither by Hindu nationalists nor by elite liberals.
They need to recognise that Muslim ladies have company, and a voice. And all that they want is for individuals to pay attention.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.