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All dressed up and nowhere to go

  • Published at 06:32 pm October 1st, 2018
The choice should be hers BIGSTOCK

Do you have the right to dictate what someone else wears?

Recently, a post on social media that went viral sought to highlight the fact that Bangladesh was being hijabized, much to the chagrin of the poster, who lamented the days when hijabs were absent from his childhood as he was growing up in a particular part of Dhaka. 

While I will refrain from agreeing or disagreeing with his opinion regarding the matter at this point in time, if I compare memories of my own childhood with his, my observations would be the same. The hijab is completely non-existent from my childhood memories. 

My mother never wore it. Her sisters never wore it. None of my cousins wore it. None of my friends either. These hijab-less memories goes as far back as when I was five (which is a ridiculous age for anyone to wear a hijab, but still, we see it) to when I am perhaps 13 or 14. 

As such, we can rather easily and comfortably rest on the conclusion that Bangladesh -- and perhaps the Islamic world in general -- has indeed experienced a “hijabification.” 

The subsequent questions, then, which beg to be answered are: What has led to this hijabifiation? And: Is this a problem? 

While it is easy to rail and rage for or against such a socio-cultural change in the very view we have of our own of country of Bangladesh (which is what happened with the post in question, with people attacking vehemently and defending strongly all sorts of opinions), it is also important for us to at least be objective in our discourse, so that, at the very least, a conversation can be had. 

This is not easy, especially when it comes to something as sensitive as religion. Our knee-jerk reaction, our condescension, our self-assured confidence in our indelible points of view get in the way of ensuring that we can, at least, attempt to understand where the other person is coming from.

This is difficult in general, not merely because it has to do with religion, and not merely because we live in Bangladesh, where our blood runs hotter than it should perhaps -- blame it on the equatorial scorching sun, if you will. 

To come to our original question: What has led to this? Have we, as a nation, become more religious? If you looked at yourself, analysed your beliefs and actions, would you, as a Bangladeshi who was alive 10, maybe 20, years ago consider yourself to be more “attuned” to religious needs now in comparison to how you were back then? 

Or, alternatively, would you, after concluding that you have become more religious, say Bangladesh has not, because you stand witness to various examples of non-religiosity amongst your family members, friends, colleagues, who exhibit “un-Islamic” and “Western” lifestyles? 

Or would you put yourself as having become less religious yourself, someone who has rejected the religious values they were brought up with, inhabiting a more “liberal” and “progressive” viewpoint? 

Because we live in Bangladesh, and more so because we live in an increasingly globalized world, the answer to this question is neither easy nor clear.

All three of these kinds of people exist in our country, at varying degrees of existence and openness, thereby creating a nation suffering from internal moral and religious conflict, and struggling to find a cohesive identity. 

(Another interesting point to note is the idea of tradition. While the hijab itself is usually seen as being a conservative emblem, it cannot be equated with tradition, because traditionally, we have never had the hijab. So we are unable to use the oft-quoted phrase “traditional values.”)

But, it cannot be denied that a majority of the population has found meaning in hijab, seeing it as an identifier for their Islamic faith. But the problem has never lied there, but in the other reason why so many people see the hijab as being an essential aspect of women’s clothing. 

To venture into different (but, unfortunately, all-too-familiar) territory, in an update from Shakib Al Hasan, where he posted a picture of himself, his daughter, and his wife a few days or weeks after he had completed hajj, comments from the Bangladeshi public were scathing in their criticisms of his wife Shishir and what she had been wearing.

I will not go into or describe what she was wearing; it is irrelevant, to the conversation and to the general state of affairs. But the general line of criticism followed that she should cover herself, that they should know better, or that Shakib should make his wife cover herself up, especially after having just completed the hajj.

Something similar happened to Nasir Hossain when he posted a photo of his sister and, though not quite the same, Taskin and his pregnant wife were also treated to similar rhetoric recently. 

These three are only some examples amongst countless other famous individuals or celebrities receiving public scrutiny similar in nature.

What these incidents, if they can be called incidents, show, is that we, the Bangladeshi people, or at least a significant portion, have this inability to consider women as being humans first, and women later (whether or not this philosophy is consistent with contemporary feminist rhetoric, I do not know, and that is a conversation for a different day; it is also the reason many women wear the hijab, not primarily for Islam, but to protect themselves). 

It seems that, first of all, many consider it their business to publicly attack, verbally abuse, dehumanize, humiliate, dictate, and objectify women. Secondly, there is a very specific way in which many view women in the first place, that is their defining feature being their sexuality. 

I will not attempt to make conclusions for anyone in this regard, but attempt to push people to ask themselves a few questions: How do you look at a woman? Do you see her as a sexual being first and foremost? Does it matter how old they are? Do you feel it your duty to dictate what she wears? Do you believe that the way you practice your own faith is the right way to practice it and everyone in this country should follow those rules?

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.

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