Where did Syed Raza Ali Gillani’s toxicity come from? His all-boys education that can only breed contempt and bone-chilling fear of females; his feudal roots or his deep-rooted sense of insecurity about being a pious devout. Wherever it came from, it was rewarded with a valorous title of Punjab higher education minister. Slow clap.
With the confidence of someone who speaks as the admin of one of those psychotic WhatsApp groups, he went on to say a few damning things, that too in front of live media: Things that glorify the policing of women’s clothes. He said that it was incumbent upon him (not clear how) that he makes all women in his province’s educational institutions wear a mandatory head covering or hijab because he claims that the Holy book said so. Perhaps inspired by a local sermon, he also says that we have lost our traditions, culture and religion and he must bring us back to it. Notably, by telling the women of the province what to do first. No such instructions were laid out for men.
He also seemed a bit unsure of how many takers there would be of this mandatory hijab policy so he sweetened the deal with a 5% marks to be added for free and no effort to women who only chose to hide their hair from the wanton eyes of men who had dirty thoughts. As if that ever stopped them.
Amidst applause of people there, the respectable minster decided to add a few lines about how there ought to be an assembly where it will be mandatory to quote religious scripture and such. Standing ovation.
Women’s clothing historically started being policed as a result of patriarchal structures very tied to land and land ownership. Women had to belong to men to be clear where the lineage lay and who the rightful heirs were. To belong to men you had to first be contained and the veil helped then.
Well, take your land and do with it what cattle do to grass. Eat it. Cud it. Regurgitate it. Digest it. Pass it out. Leave us the hell alone.
We cry out foul when France bans the veil, borne out of the same bravado and fear to clothe women as to unclothe them. Yet here we are. The veil or hijab is an identity symbol for women around the world across several cultures but here is the thing with identity. There is an “I” in it. So stop telling women if they need to wear it or not.
Even with the 5% extra marks there are women who don’t want anything to do with it. Even without the 5% marks some women wear it like it were a limb, sacred to who they are and who they want to be defined as. No education minister who’s done a degree in textiles can take it or hand that identity to them, certainly.
Education and particularly higher education has everything to do with nurturing a sense of independence and free-spiritedness — that is where the innovation and ideas come from — and very little to do with how women dress. It doesn’t take much to know this, except perhaps being a good observer.
The scientific process, the logical architecture of the mind and rational intellect all stem from observation. Also from the data and facts that good observations bring.
The problem with men is that they explain things to women without observing what women want. That they explain things about women to women. This minister by telling women how they ought to dress is telling them essentially that he is thinking on their behalf like a true patriarch. Yet the women are being sent to get an education, precisely to squash the so-called culture and tradition that has kept them so backward in the first place. Bottom most numbers are what we boast globally on women’s empowerment across the board.
We send our girls to school precisely so that they can see through the confusion and machismo that wants them away from their plushy politics, positions and perks. They know the women will displace them so bad they won’t know what hit them.
Thankfully, the Punjab government in all its wisdom called his attempt at policy “wrong,” and distanced itself from it. The next step: call men like these for what they are: “rogue.” They are dinosaurs on their way out.
- First published in The Express Tribune.