Defiance as triumph
|August 11, 2012||Posted by Shehla Rashid under Islam, Politics, Shehla Rashid in Print, Women|
(This piece appeared in Greater Kashmir on 11th August, 2012)
Two weeks back, I was part of a certain delegation that visited the Karnataka Legislature (aka Vidhana Soudha) in order to gain an understanding of its working. We spotted ex-CM Yeddyurappa and observed him as he spoke but we couldn’t understand much as the business of the house is conducted in Kannada– the local language. The visit became significant to me for other reasons, however.
After a few rounds of scrutiny, when we were about to enter the Upper House of the Karnataka Legislature, one of us was barred from entering the House. This lady is a very well-read Muslim girl from Hyderabad and the reason for her not being allowed to enter house was her headscarf! She offered to remove it, get it checked and then wear it again, but to no avail. While she stood outside the queue waiting for her predicament to end, I saw humiliation in her eyes. The queue advanced as some of us entered the House and, by the time I reached near her, the door was about to be closed for us. I only managed to ask her what all this was about. My first reaction was to ask “Why?” and by the time I finished saying “What nonsense!” the gatekeeper called out and asked me if I wanted to go inside. Did I want to go inside- after someone in my group had been kept out for a frivolous reason? No. Rather, I wanted to stand outside in solidarity with her as I was the only other Muslim woman in my group besides her. I wanted to advocate and restore her right to dignity but arguing with security officials required knowledge of the local language.
At a very short notice, I had to make up my mind about whether to give up or to assert myself. Entering the House would mean giving up and staying outside, persisting. I entered the house, dressed prim and proper for the occasion, sat in absolute quiet as is required by protocol. I did not cross my legs even by mistake as that amounts to protocol violation while others kept doing that repeatedly (they got scolded quite a few times), someone else dozed off but was promptly woken up by the lady inspector present in the audience section. I, on the other hand, was a symbol of complete compliance. I was making up my mind to protest, to stand up for my colleague’s right and to assert our identity. It was not easy: I was anxious, nervous and, of course, afraid as Karnataka is, after all, a BJP-ruled state. I didn’t know if it’s the law that prohibits women from covering their head inside the House or an unwritten rule. I wasn’t sure if I’m going to violate a law but I was, at least, going to violate an implicit understanding!
It took a lot of courage to break out of the glass of compliance that I had built around myself on purpose. I took my dupatta (long scarf) and covered my head well with it. Other women in my group felt alarmed at my behavior and started signaling me to take it off. The lady inspector walked up to me twice and asked me to remove my headscarf. I continued to look straight and maintain my composure. I was poised, quiet, compliant, and, at the same time, defiant. I gave her no other reasons to turn me out. I could not do much for my colleague. I couldn’t get her inside, couldn’t do anything to make her feel less humiliated, couldn’t advocate on her behalf. But I made everyone in the House tolerate my defiance for about twenty minutes. All this while, I was ready to be turned out but not ready to remove my headscarf. I was somewhat apprehensive that I may be violating a law but does it matter if the law itself is violating people’s rights?
We went out of the Upper and, after a lot of discussion; we decided to give it a try in the Lower House. We were allowed into the Lower House without much fuss. Here, we were asked to submit our wallets and we obeyed. But I continued to cover my head, stay poised and composed at the Lower House as well. In all probability, it was not a law at all.