Paromita Goswami‘s essay: Hijab ban? What about Christian cross or Sikh turbans? Identity and Consumption Angle to Dressing

still telling women

what to wear


Anannya Dasgupta, 27 Feb 22

From skirts to ripped jeans to hijab-women’s clothing is not their choice. The recent hijab and saffron scarf ban in Karnataka has been in media highlight of late. There is a difference between saffron scarves and hijab though. Saffron scarves are not something considered as an essential part of Hindu way of living as cross or skull-cap or turban is. Would it be red-yellow thread on wrist next for Hindus, skull-cap for Jews, cross for Christians, turbans/kripan for Sikhs next? What about existence of Hindu temples in many educational institutes? Would any Government department or court dare to ask for demolishment of such places of worship or ban doing Saraswati Vandana or ask for removal of Ganesha/Shiva/Durga idols?

Banning symbols of religious identity is nothing new. Hijab ban has been done earlier in countries like Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium,  Bulgaria, Netherlands, China, Sri Lanka, and SwitzerlandQuestion to ask here is what are the psychological consequences of religious symbols in public places, and what does wearing turban/hijab/cross/red-and-yellow-thread signify for those wearing them? And what happens when you are forced to give up your free will on matters of personal clothing choice?

It has been suggested that religiosity and effect of symbols in public places are related to everyday well-being. Those that strongly identify with Christianity have reduced negative feelings when crucifix is displayed, while those that are non-religious don’t have significant increase of negative emotions with such symbols. In addition to this, specifically targeting religious minorities and banning their identity-related dress codes have been known to reduce secondary educational attainment of such groups (especially women), adversely affect their participation in workforce and increases perception of discrimination while strengthening religious identities. Is that what India needs now?

There is also the question of freedom of expression and freedom to practice any faith that one wants to pursue. If freedom to practice any religion (or choose to not practice any) a fundamental right guaranteed under the Indian constitution, how can we wrest the freedom of expression for religious minorities? There is scholarly evidence that argues that interventions aimed at displaying religious symbols are in fact detrimental to basic human rights and well-being.

And then there is the moot question of what is the meaning of a piece of clothing to people who are wearing it. Interestingly, a 2010 study on urban Turkish covered women found that wearing of the Islamic veil was often a conscious individual choice by women who willingly chose to do it in the face of resistance from secular-modern society, and their close family and friends. This suggests that even the stigmatised practice of wearing the Islamic veil in a secular setting was transformed into a fashion-clothing as an element of both escape from male gaze and from what the respondents perceived to be indecent overtly sexualised promiscuous lifestyle, as well as resistance to the version of modernity that was promoted by modern Turkey’s founder, Mutafa Kemal Ataturk, who discouraged (but did not ban) head-covering in 1920s. It was banned in Turkey later in 1980 after the military coup, and this was recently lifted in 2010s.

Clothing is your personal choice. Research shows that what you choose to wear is a part of your identity and gives you a sense of comfort, meaning and well-being. When we are seeing the fundamental rights of only minorities being impinged in clothing choices, and not those that are in majority, what does it tell about us?

When the whites stood up with the minorities in the #blacklivesmatter movement, it gave a sense of undoing of historical injustices committed against the blacks. Would we ever see women of majority religion in India starting to wear the veil as a mode of consumer resistance to the right that is being wrested from minority women?

Paromita Goswami is Professor of Marketing and Social Innovation at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR. She also loves dancing and writing poems.

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