Never judge a book by its cover.
The thought is accepted as the unspoken norm as readers wouldn’t ever get enough of a library as they would sit and flip through every interesting title, story review or plot they would come across. It would be against their most well established principles to dismiss a book on the basis of its cover page which barely gives an insight into the world that each book creates and represents. Ask a reader and the scornful face at the idea of the significance of a book’s cover will make you regret your question, also making you feel like a mindless wit.
How often then, have women behind covers been the target of mass sympathy and at the top of “the ones who need saving”. They have been at the focus of activists’ concentration and at the centre of their study. The priority given to these women who use “cover” is popular and it is rather amusing how some organizations seem to be out on a mission to help these women get rid of the “purdah”, in some cases. There exists a lingering generalization, that the women of such a world need help, that the women of such a world are living in a state of subjugation and that the women of such a world live under nothing but a show and exerted force of power from the opposite sex. It is all a play of the male world, they say. However, as compared to the number of organizations, activists, feminists and government implementations working against the system of a “cover” for women, the number of investigations to acquire the thoughts of women on this order of traditional form of clothing, is strikingly low.
A well worn tendency ensures that while passing a woman wearing the hijab, on the street, the mind automatically pictures the life of a woman struggling to live under the oppression of her family and her husband’s kin network. A feeling of pity, sympathy, sadness quickly jump and transform into human emotions of condolence, compassion, commiseration. If you think about it, the structuring of these thoughts are almost forceful in nature. What is it about the world of that woman in the hijab, that you have seen that makes your heart pours out? What is the basis on which you decide and conclude in the fraction of a second that her life has nothing but tears and gloom? If you call yourselves children of the modern era, what is your evidence for classifying that woman as anything more than a passer-by?
According to a study in Egypt, most women explained that they would not ever discontinue covering themselves with a hijab or a burqah even if they have the option to. Afghanistani women, after the overthrow of the Taliban, maintained their age old dress including the cover, much to the bewilderment of the mind of the activist, disintegrating their agenda into fragments of an illusionary directory of unnecessary and unwanted schemes. These forms of cover provided these women with a sense of security and protection which made them comfortable to step out of their houses into the real world. It was a symbol which signified that the women might be ready to assimilate and blend with the operations of the “civilized” world, but they are not willing to shed off roots of their identity and recognition. Powerful women placed at honourable positions in the corporate world insist on holding onto their conventional forms of clothing. Liberality has caused some of them to modify its usage and the way it is worn, but there is a considerable number that choose to perform their jobs without getting rid of this cover, even in such a hostile and discriminatory environment. It is a source of comfort, security, morals, strength, faith and belief in their form of living for most.
The burqah or the purdah is considered by many women as a shield that wards off the evil eye for them. They believe that it saves them from being looked upon as objects of desire and possession by males, by symbolizing the conventions and norms that rule their outlook and psychology. It represents a woman who accepts the ways of this forgiving society, yet maintains her trust in her traditional schools of thought. It delineates the portrayal of a woman who has faith in the fusion of the modern and the traditional and is willing to do something to help the cause. Whatever might be the case, the cover does not in any way, speak of a woman living in the shackles and chains of a living bound by the confinements of a male-captivated ideology.
This is not to deny that there are some women out there, who are living behind the covers only because they are forced and would do away with it, had they not been living in the fear of a ruthless, restricting society. Such cases exist too. But the call here is for those who attach the stigma of a forced and suppressed, living with the existence of a form of cover. It is not justifiable in any sense to use this as a parameter of the condition and state of a woman.
Deeming these women as “the ones who need saving” by activist and feminists would be as irrelevant as calling off a book due to its uninteresting cover, by a true reader. These are women capable of making their own decisions and standing up for themselves. If there is something that they don’t require, it is the forceful help and saving guided by such thoughts of minimal applicability and pertinence.
What sense does it make to decide what would be happening under it, by using a layman understanding of that which is seen covering it? The eyes tell their own story. Let it be seen and let it be heard.
Like Albert Einstein said,
“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”