No Ritu Kumar, all Muslim women don't wear hijab
The politics of a headscarf, a piece of clothing deeply-rooted in Islamic patriarchy, is far from simple.
The notion propagated by popular media of a Muslim woman has her always wearing a hijab (headscarf) and at times a burqa. This stereotypical view has even colonized the best of minds. Those who think that all Muslim women in India, if not across the world, must wear a headscarf run rampant in our society.
Recently, Fashion industry's matriarch Ritu Kumar released 'Equally Beautiful', a campaign with photographer Bikramjit Bose and actor Zoya Hussein "representing four faiths" amid a 'representation crisis' in her field. Kumar's Instagram post read, "Diversity of faith and gender are woven into the fabric of this country. In these troubled times, Ritu Kumar stands by beauty in diversity and the belief that we are all equal, Equally beautiful."
Her campaign comes at a time when the fashion industry has been called out for lack of inclusivity. Once international brands went for a quick PR fix after being accused of "producing culturally inappropriate fashion", Indian household names quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Indian couturiers from Gaurav Gupta to Sanjay Garg integrated people in their shows and campaigns from across the rainbow spectrum and age.
Kumar's campaign too was in keeping with this trend. But Islam, she must have missed, is not a monolith and not every Muslim woman wears a headscarf.
The politics of a headscarf, a piece of clothing deeply rooted in Islamic patriarchy, is far from simple. Some do it out of piety believing the Quraan mandates them to do so. For others, the headscarf is a symbol to assert their Muslim identity. And in several instances, headscarves have been used to rebel against the West.
However, in Islamic households, the misogynistic practice of "purdah" is often forced on women who seldom get a chance to say no.
Several interpretations (by men), over the years in Islam, suggest that it is largely a woman's responsibility to protect herself from the lecherous male gaze and avoid putting any onus on men for their lewd behaviour.
"When it comes to what is described as the Islamic restrictions on women's dress, women are never simply women. It is burned with meanings; oppressed woman, pure woman, conservative woman, strong woman, liberated woman. Misogyny has not been wiped out anywhere. Rather, it resides on a spectrum and our best hope to eradicate it is to fight against the local versions of it," writes feminist author Mona Eltahawy in Headscarves and Hymens.
The likes of Ritu Kumar celebrating 'diversity' while homogenising a section of society betrays their ignorance of this essential fact. Women in India have fought extensively against the practice of veiling. Even in the Islamic country of Iran, hundreds of women took to the streets in 2017 to protest against the imposition of compulsory hijab.
The theoretical implications of hijab or burqa limits movement in public space, curtailing options for women's equal participation in the socio-political sphere. And the niqab introduces a notion of silence.
Author Rakhshanda Jalil in her novel But You Don't Look Like A Muslim, writes, "On a personal note, my own experiences of enforced burqa have simply strengthened my antipathy to the very notion of veiling and the 'violation' and 'subservience' that inevitably follow. I have come to believe the axiom: that which is separate is inherently unequal. And the segregated are invariably regarded as somehow inferior by the other. In the context of our own history, just as the colonial powers decreed a separate space for the 'natives' by segregating them from positions of power and relegating them to a state of subservience, in much the same way women have been isolated and marginalized by patriarchal systems".
Going by her campaign, it's hard to imagine if Kumar has ever met the many Christians in India too. But let us leave that for another day...