The New York Police Department (NYPD) has granted permission to women to keep their hijab on when mugshots are being taken after arrest. This reform in policy comes after a legal clash with two Muslim women who had, in 2018, claimed “humiliation” upon being forced by NYPD to remove their hijab during mugshots. In settling the lawsuit, the Department has now decided to do away with that rule altogether. Men of different faiths will also henceforth be allowed to keep their religious headgear – like skullcaps and turbans – on to respect their “privacy, rights and religious beliefs.”
Albert Fox Cahn, the lawyer representing the Muslim women, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “It was appalling that this was happening for so many years in New York and that our city was betraying the values of religious inclusion. But now we won’t see any more New Yorkers subjected to this discriminatory policy.”
Incidents Of Arrested Women Feeling “Shame”
The policy of having arrested persons take off their religious headgear during the mugshot – to reportedly assist in recording and identification of the accused’s face – has always been a contentious one. Over the years, several Muslim women, who were directed by the NYPD to take off their hijabs during mugshot pictures, have tried to address this severe grievance.
In 2017, Jamilla Clark, a Muslim woman, was arrested in Manhattan on a low-level charge. For her mugshot, she was asked to remove her hijab. “As the camera flashed to take her photograph, Ms. Clark recalled feeling naked,” NYT says. She felt “shame” at being without her head-cover in the presence of unknown men who weren’t members of her family. Earlier in 2015, in what was blatantly insulting, a Muslim woman was made fun of by a male police officer and male detainees after having to remove her hijab for the mugshot.
As a result, some Muslim women joined hands to seek reparations from the NYPD and attempt to reverse the law that was offensive to them or their religion. A $60,000 settlement was reached in 2018, with now the no-headgear policy being completely scrapped in 2020. The arrested persons will be allowed to retain their head-covers on the condition that their face is completely unobstructed.
Hijab As A Motif Of Empowerment?
In India, as around the world, the hijab as a religious motif has emerged as a symbol of empowerment among Muslim women. They have reclaimed it from its orthodox, seemingly oppressive traditional history and turned it into a cloth that redefines their agency, independence, and freedom to make choices.
A 23-year-old Muslim woman from Bhopal, choosing to remain anonymous, tells us, “People believe that the hijab is a protective barrier for us from ghair marham (men other than her father, brother, husband). There may be some history to it – with regards to protection from evil and such – but today, more than anything, wearing a hijab is a choice. Personally, I wear it out of happiness. It in fact gives me a manner of freedom and boosts my confidence. That said, I don’t feel women who don’t want to wear it should be forced to at all.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Khatija Rahman, music legend AR Rahman’s daughter, who dons a burkha. Following a comment made by author Taslima Nasreen, where she criticised the young girl’s choice of clothing, saying, “I feel suffocated. It is really depressing to learn that even educated women in a cultural family can get brainwashed very easily.” Rahman had taken to Instagram to respond to Nasreen in a hard-hitting note, saying, “Please get some fresh air, cause I don’t feel suffocated rather I’m proud and empowered for what I stand for.”
Views expressed are the author’s own.