Cultural centers

In the fashion world, an act of cultural pride subverts logic in a polarized world – Art-and-culture News, Firstpost

For young Muslim women in India caught between state and society, there is little space to define themselves outside of the hijab.

In 2016, Latina graduate student Ana Carolina Antunes did a collective art project called The Hijab Project at a public high school in Utah. Antunes has worked with Muslim girls from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. The girls “responded to assumptions made about them in and out of school” because of their hijab. These included: questions about whether they were going to kill the person sitting next to them, they were asked if they ‘shower with the hijab’, ‘have hair underneath’ or ‘have cancer’.

They had been repeatedly singled out everywhere for having worn the hijab as an emblem of Islam, as extreme religiosity. Antunes notes the irony that the school was in Utah, a state defined by its extreme religiosity as the center of the Mormon Church. The girls all came from different cultural backgrounds, but “people saw them all as one person.” In the background, the 2016 Trump elections, a climate of heightened xenophobia.

Antunes writes that, “despite the traditional framing of Muslim women as passive victims, through their artwork, the girls in this research group prove that religiosity and choice are not dichotomous.” The girls created hijabs with textile art on mannequins accompanied by an artist statement on what it meant to them. Their creations were exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Utah and sparked a public conversation about their experiences, on their terms.

The hijab as a goal

Society, the state and now the market see young Muslim women only through the prism of the hijab. At last count, 61 countries around the world regulate women’s clothing titled by burqa ban. The Indian government has recently joined this club with the Karnataka state bans hijab in educational institutions and the High Court order confirming this.

At the same time, anecdotal evidence indicates that more and more women are adopting the hijab around the world, to express their cultural identity or defend the demonization of their faith in the context of widespread Islamophobia. The market has been eager to take advantage of this change, with unique collaborations that incorporate the hijab into fast fashion for the first time.

The fashion world has also opened its borders to leave the hijab. With the message that you can be fashionable and faithful at the same time, the “modesty mode” movement gained ground. Modest Fashion Weeks take place in London, Jakarta, Istanbul and Dubai. hijab fashion emerges as a creative field teeming with brightly colored fabrics, drapes and form-fitting silhouettes that subvert the logic underlying its religious aspect, but as an act of pride embrace its cultural relevance in a polarized world.

An Indian Muslim woman holds a placard during a protest against the ban on Muslim girls wearing hijab from attending classes in some schools in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. PA

The hijab as a tool

If the world looks at them through the lens of the hijab, young Western Muslim women use the hijab as a tool through which they express and define themselves. Hijabi fashion has been a key strategy through which young Muslim women create communities of support online, engage in dialogue with non-Muslims, and use their platforms for online activism that pushes for a more public sphere. inclusive. Young Muslim fashion influencers on social media are reshaping the Western public’s view of Islam.

In India, hijabi fashion is still marginal. Even behind the scenes, the hijab is clearly visible. Fashion designer Muneeba Nadeem, who presented her collection at Lakme Fashion Week 2019, mentioned in a conference with The Voice of Fashion how she felt challenged behind the scenes. A perplexed look seemed to ask him: “what are you doing here?” as if a woman in a hijab had no place in the fashion world.

The hijab and the politics of what women wear

For most women, what we wear is not a ‘free choice’. The idea of ​​modesty is not unique to Islam. It lies in the spoken and unspoken dictates of each religion for women to warn her not to be provocative.

Modesty is presented as superior or desirable, something inherent in defining a woman’s individual character or the collective attribute of femininity in general. It sets the framework within which women must make “choices” about how they present themselves. Meanwhile, society judges these choices and finds ways to punish those who act outside of them.

Consequently, the clothing choices of women, Muslim or not, are generally strategic. Sameera Khan observes that what women wear more widely (bindi, dupatta, hijab, sindoor) aims to maximize their access to public spaces and other opportunities. While the hijab is often singled out and seen as a rejection of modernity or a return to traditionalism, studies find that it is correlated with women’s increased participation in public life while preserving their cultural identity.

A study in indonesia with young women finds that for women, it is “a bridge that allows them to connect all aspects of their lives without any sacrifice”. Studies in Bangladesh have shown that an increase in veiling practices has occurred alongside (and contributed to) an increase in indicators of women’s empowerment, including higher levels of education, increased status of women and public participation.

There is no official data on such an increase in India. A Pew Survey reports that 9 out of 10 Muslim women wear a head covering in public in India, although major differences exist between regions. But he also finds it common for women in India. The report states that “up to 61% of Indian women reported covering their heads outside their homes. While the practice is most widespread among Muslims (89%), it is at almost similar levels among Sikhs (86%) and more than half (59%) among Hindus as well.”

The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 indicates that Muslim women have the least freedom of movement in India. But it’s not much better for non muslim women! While only 32% of Muslim women (aged 15-49) surveyed are allowed to go alone to the market, health center or places outside their village, only 41.6% of their Hindu counterparts can do so. likewise – ie a whopping 60% of women in India do not have freedom of movement.

The hijab and the lived realities of young Muslim women in India

These numbers don’t tell us how women actually experience these restrictions. The scientific discussion remains at the conceptual level – is the hijab liberating or oppressive? But what are the realities? What are the struggles and stories of women who choose to veil and those who choose to stop wearing the hijab, or the degrees of experience between these?

Recently, non-fiction books such as Nazia Erum mothering a muslim and Ghazala Wahab Born Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India offer sensitive narratives. But there is still very little research on the lived realities of young Muslim women, who are massively impacted by laws like Karnataka’s ban.

A article by Haniya Rumani and Sujata Sriram gives us some insights from qualitative research with twelve young Muslim women in Mumbai. He finds that the hijab is impossible to extract from the larger ecology in which women live, stating, “A positive response to the veil at home, in the neighborhood and on social media promoted the hijab while negative responses at work and in educational settings have hindered it”. These mixed messages create a stressful and emotionally draining situation for young women.

In other article by Smeeta Mishra and Surhita Basu on the visual self-presentation of Muslim women online, they find that respect for family honor, a requirement for leading a peaceful life offline, is also the determining factor in their online representation. They are bound by strict codes of shame and honor – something that is not specific to Muslim women but to every young woman in India. A life of hypervisibility holds true for most young women in India living at the intersection of spectacle and surveillance. Young women are burdened with the responsibility of upholding family honour, even in the digital world.

In a report from Parcham Collective entitled “Being a Muslim at workyoung Muslims talk about the difficulties in accessing education, entering the formal sector (only 8% of Muslims are employed in the formal sector) and everyday Islamophobia in the workplace, the feeling constant being weathered to co-workers refusing to share food or disparaging their commitment. . As the report finds, the hijab is not necessary for female Muslim students to face discrimination. Just a name is enough.

In such terrain, what you wear is small business to hit against bigger payouts. It reminds us of Deniz Kandiyoti’s famous term “negotiating with the patriarchy” – we learn how to negotiate with the patriarchy early on so that we can take small steps towards larger goals of freedom one day.

Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy in her book Scarves and Hymens asks a particularly poignant question: “Are we more than our scarves? For young Muslim women in India caught between state and society, there is little space to define themselves outside of the hijab. We need to create space to listen to their voices and understand the fabric of their lives beyond the headscarf. It is not the burden of young Muslim women to teach the mainstream – the mainstream must also do the work of learning.

Manjima Bhattacharjya is the author of Model: women who work in India’s glamor industry [Zubaan, 2018] and intimate city [Zubaan, 2022].

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