It is 2019 and here we are, arguing yet another Muslim woman’s right to wear a burqa. This time, the woman drawing the nation’s ire is none other than Oscar-winning music maestro AR Rahman’s daughter Khatija Rahman.
Rahman recently marked ten years of winning the Oscar for best music direction for the Danny Boyle directed Slumdog Millionnaire. The musical genius celebrated the occasion with an event in Mumbai’s Dharavi, the biggest slum in the world on Monday. And his daughter Khatija went up on stage to commemorate him. Little did she realize that the simple act of supporting her father would land her and the musician in the eye of a hate campaign.
All she had to do was wear a burqa. As soon as the photos of the concert made it to social media, Rahman was targeted by alleged proponents of freedom of choice and expression. They said it was cruel of him to enforce his religious beliefs on his daughter, that it was unfair of him to “force” her to wear a burqa.
People also called out Rahman for having alleged double standards. “Sir, I thought your religion was music. I was wrong,” a Twitter user wrote to Rahman.
Both Rahman and Khatija have responded strongly to the hate. Rahman posted a photo of his daughters Kahtija and Rahima along with his wife Saira Bano. The three are wearing different attires and posing with Nita Ambani. The photo was posted with the hashtag #FreedomTochoose.
Khatija also took to social media to defend her father’s position. She claimed that her religious choices were her own and what she wore was also solely her decision and not her father’s. “There were certain comments which said that this attire is being forced by my dad and that he has double standards. I would like to say that the attire I wear or the choices I make in my life does not have anything to do with my parents,” Khatija wrote in a Facebook post.
“The veil has been my personal choice with complete acceptance and honor. I’m a sane, mature adult who knows to make my choices in life. Any human being has a choice to wear or do what he/she wants and that’s what I’ve been doing,” she wrote. She concluded by requesting people to not make snap judgments about situations before first being aware of all its facets.
The irony is that women are still being told what they can or can’t wear, even if it is for their own liberation and empowerment or in the name of liberal secularism. The incident reminds me of the time France banned the burkini in the name of maintaining secularism and what followed was the shameful harassment of a number of Muslim women including old and young who were asked to disrobe in public beaches because well, they were wearing a burkini.
The argument is simple, really. An item or commodity is oppressive as long as it is forced unto someone without their consent. Even if one does not believe in religion, one must allow people including women to choose their own path and faith. We do not call a Muslim man wearing a cap and a beard oppressed by Islam, do we? We refer to him as someone who chooses to observe and express their faith. It’s the same with Sikh men who choose to keep their turbans. We do not question the act.
Why must we question women when they choose to follow their faiths? And the fact that people on social media instantly began to blame AR Rahman for his daughter’s choice of clothing also goes to show how little agency society sees women as having. Both father and daughter had to come out and clarify to the entire world an intimate detail pertaining to their personal lives that no one needed to know about at all!
How is telling a Muslim woman that her burqa is the result of an enforced religion okay while the same about ‘ghunghat‘ clad ‘bahus‘ in several parts of North India is not? The trolling of AR Rahman and his daughter reeks of nothing but opportunism in a country where religious hatred is the principle fodder that fuels political and social discourse. And using distorted versions of feminism to justify hate, especially Islamophobia, is the new trick up the neo-liberal jingoist’s sleeve. How is talking about empowering women by freeing them of so-called ‘restrictive’ clothing Islamophobic, you ask? Sample some of the comments posted on Rahman’s tweet.