Isn’t it weird when you are questioned for being yourself?
To all the questions that I have ever been asked, to all the stares that I have ever received and to all preconceived notions that people have about a girl with her hair covered- here is my story.
Like many stories, mine also began long time back. Well,not THAT long, 5 years to be precise. I had just returned from my trip to Saudi Arabia. I was 14 then. No, I was not captured by the Taliban/ISIS and forced to embrace the hijab (no matter how dramatic that sounds, the story is NOT going there).
For me, I thought was spiritually enlightened after the holy pilgrimage.
Being the sneaky over-smart kid that I was then (still am?) , I remember arguing with my mother about how I am wearing the hijab ONLY out of reverence for the holy city. No other reasons. Little did I know that my stubbornness to NOT wear the hijab would vanish in a few days.
“Mumma, this thing is itchy!”, I complained while wearing it for the first time. I looked weird. VERY weird, if you ask me. “Is this really me?”, I wondered. But when I left the place wearing my hijab, I felt elated. The feeling was breathtakingly beautiful (yes, like they show in movies after the actor admits to herself that she is in love with the creepy guy she hated at the beginning). I could walk down the street without the fear of being ogled at or that my hair would get messy when the sand storm hits that desert city!
After coming back to India, all my love for the hijab went down the drain. I felt awkward to wear it to school or any other social gathering. I felt out of place. The very thought of wearing the hijab gave me chills down the spine (like when the actor above realises that she has to convince her father to let her marry the creepy guy). I was in a dilemma for long until one fine day when my sister was getting married. I noticed something that very day and it disgusted me to no extent. It made me hate the society I had been living in, and I probably still hate it because of that very reason. I noticed how much of importance was given to the ‘beauty’ of females. The way they dressed, styled their hair and applied make up. I felt sad about the judgments that people made based of looks (which was so artificial that it could be washed away with water, literally).
I wanted and needed to free myself from my reliance on my looks. I wanted to test myself, to see whether I had the courage to get by on my strength of my personality, character and deed (SPOILER: I didn’t have the courage back then).
It was not a decision I took lightly. Anyone who knows me, knows how paranoid I can get. I remember thinking, A LOT. I remember thinking to myself about how long can anyone rely on their looks – how much respect does a person have for his/herself?
Although my reasons to wear it had not been extreme but I was ready to make a change.
With that thought in mind, I started wearing hijab the very next day (talk about being hormonal!).
“You don’t have to wear it everywhere, you know”, my father said as he saw his 14 year old daughter tying her hijab before leaving for a wedding. “I know it, Papa”, I simply replied. At that time, my decision to wear the hijab was not well cherished by my father. On the other hand my mothers’ attitude towards my decision was indifferent. She openly did not encouraged or discouraged me. She let me make my own choice (which I appreciated a lot).
As far as my best friend, Khushboo, was concerned, she was very supportive. She did not try to change my mind but rather encouraged me to do what I wanted to do (for a 14 year old, she was smart, just like me). My classmates and other friends bombarded me with questions and a few even gave me degrading looks. Did it bother me? ABSOLUTELY..YES. My first day in school in hijab was MISERABLE (which is an understatement). I wanted to go and hide in a corner. It took me 30mins to start doubting my strength. I felt my resolution crumbling and my heart beating too fast for my liking. “Is this it? I can stand up for what I believe in for just 30 minutes?”, I questioned myself.
I felt invisible (Mr. India much?). I felt like it no one noticed me. It lasted for a week. Then something inside me clicked. I thought, “GOOD! Don’t look at me, don’t compare me with your latest trends, MY APPEARANCE AND MY BODY IS MY BUSINESS”.
So, how has my journey been?
I remember this one incident when I was called a terrorist (no, I did not kill the person who called me so). Apart from that, my hijab journey has been BEAUTIFUL. From being confident about myself to being able to walk with my head held up high, I would not be exaggerating if I said that it changed me. Wearing hijab made me a better human being altogether. It means more to me that just wrapping a rectangle piece of cloth around my head. I became acutely aware that I was being identified as a Muslim and, as such, was representative of my faith wherever I went. I was and still am happy to be recognized for the faith which I hold and while others may look down upon me as dowdy or plain, I feel beautiful. I feel liberated because I know that when I will go for any interview, they cannot judge or make their decision based on my looks or what I am wearing, rather their decision will solely be based on my credentials and CV and THAT IS LIBERATION.
Many questioned me, isn’t it oppressive?
It is oppressive when it is really hot-and no one can say that it is liberating in that moment. You’re thinking, you know what? I would just like to take it off and sit out here with the sun touching my skin and my hair dancing with the wind like those in L’Oreal ads. One of the most frequent comment that I get is, “Isn’t it hot in that thing?” and certainly one of the hardest thing about it is the physical discomfort.
Another thing that makes wearing hijab difficult is the reaction that one often gets from non-Muslims. I find myself being defined by others- others views of Islam, of Muslims and of me as a Muslim female. It is strange to hear oneself being defined in those terms- Muslim Woman- because I know all the images and preconceived notions that goes with that description. I know that I don’t fit that image and I have no intention of ever doing so. Hijab, niqab and jiljaab can and does provoke virulent responses from the public. It is as if, once you decide to put the hijab on, you cease to have a human identity.
The questions that accompany the degrading looks from the people around me is more than irritating!
“Your parents force you to wear it?”
“Does your father beat you if you don’t wear it?”
(If you don’t shut up then I will beat you!) I
“Do you wear it when you use the washroom?”
(I don’t even…)
“Do you wear it to bed?”
(No, Captain. I don’t.)
“Got a terrorist relative?”
“Are you even Indian?”
(Yes, Sherlock. Yes, there are Muslims living in India.)
The fact that people ask me these questions is not upsetting.
The fact that the ‘youth’ who claims to be ‘secular and tolerant’ ask me these questions is upsetting.
The fact that people still hold such stereotypical thoughts is upsetting.
The fact that people still believe that a female with her head covered is beneath a female without the hijab is upsetting.
The fact that we live in a world where some women are paid to get naked while others are fined for being covered is upsetting…