While browsing through the plethora of articles and the accompanying comments of the often partisan and abusive readers about the veil ban recently enforced by the French Government, one word that repeatedly came up in every post was “Oppressed”. Through the print and electronic and social media, the whole world was unanimously lauding the righteous decision of the French Government to oppose the very obvious symbol of oppression- the act of forcing hapless women to cover their faces- an inhuman custom owing its origin to the oh so chauvinistic values of a medieval religion.
Let me be honest. I personally respect women who wear veils. Maybe it is simply because these women have the courage to withstand all the cynicism, condescension and sometimes patronizing sympathy that comes along with every packet of naqab. And I deeply respect people who follow their hearts, who like the lighthouse that stood defiantly before the honking warship choose to stay steadfast even when whirlwinds of negative energy swirl around them all the time. And it also shows another face (pun intended) of women hood. Search for “French first lady” in Google and you will see the other end of the continuum. If my own son wasn’t a reader of my blog, I would have posted a picture of that epitome of women’s liberation right here. These words wouldn’t satiate his curiosity. We have the safe search feature turned on in every search engine (Thank god).
I have nothing against the French Government. But I badly wanted to validate the word “oppressed”. So I decided to meet up with and interview a colleague of mine who wore the veil…proudly that too.
Since I didn’t want my own prejudices and preconceived biases to lead to a pathetically one sided interview, I called up a Modern, generation Z friend of mine and requested him to give me a few questions. The fact that he was one of the most vociferous supporters of the veil ban automatically ensured that the interview maintained a sense of balance.
Q: Who forced you to wear this veil and when?
A: No one ever forced me. I decided to wear it myself. One fine day while I was at the university, I just decided to go to the shop and buy one. And I have been wearing one ever since.
Q: Where you studying at a religious seminary or something?
A: No. I was pursuing technical education in one of the prestigious institutions in the region. The University had students from every nook and corner of the world and the faculty members were mostly European.
Q: What do you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror?
A: I feel proud of myself. I am happy that I am able to stand by my principles and stick to my decisions.
Q: Don’t you feel that you are demeaning yourself by putting a shroud like cloth all around you?
A: On the contrary, I feel very very valuable. If you go to branded Jewelry shops, you find that the most precious diamonds are kept carefully under multiple protective wraps. They are handled delicately only by people who have the skills, luck and who have earned the right to handle them. On the other hand you find cheap stones sold even on the pavements where every passerby can pick them up, try them on and toss them back into the box.
Q: Did this sudden conversion to veil hood during studenthood affect your social life?
A: Not at all. I continued getting awards for making the best presentations and projects. My grades improved. I made more friends over time and we had all the fun and frolic that students of that age indulged in. It has also made me a better and more careful person. A man sporting a beard and a cap wouldn’t be able to drink in public. Similarly I have over the years become more patient, more generous and helpful since I am subconsciously reminded of the fact that I am a striking ambassador of a great religion.
Q: If you are transported to a part of the planet where no one knows you…away from your culture and its rituals, will you still wear the veil?
A: when my husband and I went to Thailand (of all places), he posed the same proposition to me. He was trying to lure me to take it off, stating that no one knew me in that foreign land. I told him that this attire was part of me akin to my own skin and would stay with me wherever I went.
Q: Has the veil affected your career prospects?
A: I am aware of the fact that many organizations don’t recruit women who wear the naqab. I have been refused a few jobs because of the same reason. But opportunities, jobs and careers aren’t decided by humans. I will get what is destined for me through hard work and prayer because it is the creator and not his creations that make decisions. Moreover I would be happier to work in a role where my competencies and commitment are valued more than my facial features.
Q: What would you do if your own daughter refuses to wear the Veil?
A: Well I will ensure that she wears the Hijab for sure. Regarding the veil, through her reading and reflections she will one day realize that there is a huge difference between a CEO and a Manager and I am sure that she will also adopt this symbol of freedom loved and cherished by millions of believing women the world over. A symbol that says that a woman’s beauty is not something to be exploited and exhibited on billboards and silver screens to sell cheap wares or to rake in money.
After the interview, this colleague of mine moved on……. And soon got immersed into the many challenging projects that she was leading. Interacting confidently with her colleagues from both genders, fighting assertively for her team’s rights over some issue, and negotiating ardently with her boss over some complicated proposal. Soon the day would end and she would drive off home , smoothly making the transition from an effective executive to a loving home maker.
By the way, the dictionary meaning of oppressed is “To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority: a people who were oppressed by tyranny”.
I think we are the ones who are oppressed, by our own prejudices and inabilities to understand, respect and celebrate differences.