As the row over headscarves worn by Muslim women escalates in Karnataka, Yogi Adityanath on hijab said in the press that no woman wears the garment by choice. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister makes this statement while elections in the state under his leadership are underway. Given that he is known for his communally coloured views delivered unabashedly in public, the tone Yogi took on the matter heating up in the country was not entirely unexpected.
“No woman wears hijab by choice. Did women ever accept triple talaq malpractice by choice? Ask those daughters and sisters,” Yogi told India Today on Thursday. He goes on in the interview to proclaim that everyone must have the freedom to dress, pointing at his own saffron garb and saying that he does not impose his choice of clothing on his party members.
“…if there’s an institution, there should be a discipline in that institution,” he added.
In fact, several such leaders, commentators and speakers – including BJP’s Pragya Thakur – are taking this moment, which revolves chiefly around the right of girls to study, to sermonise on the validity and essentialism of the hijab. They are liberally taking the high ground with regard to women empowerment, giving lectures on how patriarchy shouldn’t be dictating what women wear.
These people with opportunist moralities should simply sit down.
They, who have hardly ever uttered a word in favour of women’s choices and instead pushed regressive ideas that further impose patriarchal diktats on women, are now finding themselves equipped to make pronouncements on what liberates a woman and what doesn’t.
It was ‘saviour’ Yogi who, in an old article that surfaced around the time of the Hathras gangrape in 2020, reportedly wrote that women power did not require freedom but protection. That “a home gets destroyed when women become as effective as men,” as quoted by Indian Express.
So why is this supposed patronage of feminist ideals cropping up suddenly when it suits an agenda? And why is it conveniently being measured solely in terms of Muslim women’s practices? If these leaders were so well-meaning, shouldn’t they have had the prudence of supporting emancipatory causes regardless of the moment’s proximity to election time?
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And anyway, these remarks on the hijab are as hollow as they sound. Muslim women across the world, not just in India, cover their heads out of choice. Not just the hijab, but other patriarchally rooted religious symbols like the sindoor too have been reclaimed by women as a part of their identity and faith.
Can we strip them of their right by urging them to ditch their beliefs? Why must a woman keep proving her empowerment to people who keep casting unsolicited doubt over it?
Can a headscarf today determine in totality whether or not a woman is empowered? It’s the 21st century and women with their heads covered are studying, taking good jobs and sitting on powerful decision-making seats. Religion and empowerment are navigating well the mechanics of how to work in tandem with each other, no matter how diametrically contrarian several of their ideals may be.
Should men feel entitled, all over again, to seize those symbols, patronise Muslim women and certify their choices for them? Patriarchal discourse runs the same hegemonic rut over and over again.
The key to equality is to accord women the dignity to decide for themselves. Pass the mic so they can speak. Give them access to education so they walk towards their own liberation.
Views expressed are the author’s own.