Midweek Musing

Last week, just after International Womens Day, I sat, like I am now, in front of my laptop and mulled over what to write.

There were a couple of stories that I had seen doing the usual rounds on social media that troubled me. The first was the furore over the dancing hijabi. Those of you who missed this, basically someone filmed a woman wearing a headscarf twerking in a city centre. That video went viral and the woman was publicly shamed. She received death threats, abuse and it eventually led to her publicly apologising on some guys YouTube. It is fair to say that the majority of people had an issue with the woman twerking because she was wearing a hijab. They felt she was ‘dishonouring’ the religion, bringing ‘disgrace’ upon herself, her family and her community. I saw people making comments along the lines of ‘she should have removed her hijab before doing such a disgusting act.’

The second story was that of Bangladesh reducing its legal marriage age from 18 to 0. Yeah you read that right. On February 17th, the Bangladesh government proposed this new law which would effectively allow girls under the age of 18 to marry in ‘special cases.’ But it has not specified what those special cases are. What it means in practice is that, any girl under the age of 18 can get married to a man, regardless of his age, as long as the parents of the girl and the courts consent.

The reason why I was most perturbed by these stories was because they have one thing in common, they assume ownership over the women concerned.

In regards to the dancing hijabi, it was assumed by people at large, that because she was wearing a hijab, she was to conform to a uniform code of behaviour. A code of behaviour all hijabis must adopt. I don’t know what that it is but given the comments I have read, it is that hijabis must be ‘modest,’ ‘decent,’ ‘respectful,’ ‘represent their religion properly.’
It is as though once a woman decides to wear the hijab, she becomes the property of the Muslim communities at large. It is as though she is then accountable to them and at their mercy. She is to expect to be publicly shamed, threatened and abused if she displeases them.

Not only is this unjust. It is a display of a delusional, irrational and an ignorant attitude towards women. It is a total disregard of the autonomy of a woman. She does not represent anyone but herself. She is accountable to no one but herself. She is free to do as she pleases, whether she wears the hijab or not.

The fact that this woman was abused to such an extent that she felt the need to publicly apologise is disgusting. How gratuitous of the man who facilitated this apology. Who will never endure the stigma she has experienced. How gratitutous of the people for forgiving her. What about those who threatened her with death? Will they too be subject to a public trial? What about those who cursed her, frothing at their fingertips. Will they too be subject to a public trial?
No. because mob mentality doesn’t work like that. It stifles rationality. It dehumanises its victim and after it has achieved what it set out to do, it waits for its next target.

It is as though some people do not want to accept the fact that hijabis are women with free independent thinking. Free to do as they please. Whether they have a lapse in judgement or not. That is the womans prerogative. Certainly not yours.

Which leads me on to the Bangledishi marriage law,
In Bangladesh, 52% of girls are married before they turn 18 and 18% are married before they are 15.
On the Girls not Brides website, Samira, from Bangladesh writes about her experience.

“I am victim of early marriage. When I was 14, I was forced into a marriage as I was considered a burden on the family. My family suggested this marriage [because] the groom didn’t ask for dowry. My husband was 35 – double my age.”
“During the marriage I had the horrible experience of marital rape. [Unable] to tolerate it anymore, I went back to my parents’ home and am living with them again.”

If the new law receives Presidential approval, there will be more girls like Samira. Why? Because parents have this view that girls are a burden, and it is better to get rid of them as soon as possible. The earlier they get them married the better. The only thing that can change this mindset is education. But if a society views its girls as a problem rather then a solution, who will care to invest in them? If a government feels it can make such laws without considering the long term effects on future generations, then what does it tell you about its value for women?

As I write this, news has come in about the European Court of Justice legalising a ban on headscarves in workplaces, as long as the employer enforces a blanket ban for all religions.
I cannot help but wonder how this will affect Muslim women who are considering re entering the workplace. In 2015, ONS found 58% of Muslim women are economically inactive. That may be due to the fact that some are full time carers, others experience language barriers and a portion feel discriminated against because of their faith and how they choose to dress.

This is the first ban on headscarves of its sort. The culmination of a debate that has been raging across Europe regarding the dress choices of Muslim women. From the banning of the niqaab to the burka to the controversial forced removal of the burqini on a beach in Nice. It is everywhere. This desire to reduce Muslim women to the clothes they wear. To empower them by means of limiting their choices.

I cannot help but wonder, will this battle for the freedom of Muslim women ever end? Whether it is the Muslim communities who throw stones at hijabis for displaying ‘unusual’ behaviour, or the legislators who want to ensure ‘neutrality,’ by legalising the ban on headscarves.

It is as though Muslim women are incapable of making decisions for themselves.
Too oppressed to truly make our own choices.
Too irresponsible to be given free reign.

When will this distorted fantasy end?

The Drama in The Viceroy’s House.

Lets talk about Viceroy’s House.

Firstly I want to say, if you haven’t watched the movie, GO WATCH IT! Stop reading all the reviews, watch it and form your own opinions.

Secondly, what you are about to read is my response to watching the movie. If you agree/disagree that’s fine but these are my own personal thoughts.

Thirdly this is not a review of any sort. Just an opportunity for me to gather my thoughts and articulate them to you.

Now that we have got the formalities out of the way, lets begin.

Viceroy’s House is a really good film.  It took me about 15 mins to get deeply drawn into it, but once I did, I was gripped.  It is moving, funny and thought provoking. There were moments when I was sat at the edge of my seat holding my breath. There were moments when I was holding my sisters hand,  tears rolling down my face. And there were moments when I groaned with frustration, thinking no, it wasn’t like that!

I was already invested in this film long before I watched it. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Partition. 70 years since the birth of Pakistan, and the independence of India from a long and debilitating British rule.

My grandparents survived partition. For those of you who have listened to my podcast, you will know that my grandfather, Mirza Khan Butt, served in the 2nd world war.  He, along with millions of other Indians, served because they had been promised freedom if Britain was victorious. This is touched on in Viceroys House. So I guess in one way, I watched this movie, hoping to see some of the stories I had heard growing up. And I did. The stories of co existence, friendships and mutual respect all came through.  But Chadha didn’t shy away from the reality of partition. The stories of rioting, rape and devastation weaved in between the various narratives within the movie. And this was done seamlessly.

What made me feel uncomfortable was the portrayal of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.  He was presented as this aloof, arrogant and stubborn man, who was intent on splitting India in half to create this new state called Pakistan. There were points throughout the movie when Jinnah was portrayed as a spoilt child who refused to compromise because he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It was as if Mountbatten was left with no choice. Pakistan seemed to be this vague idea Jinnah had dreamt up, with no considered thought and he wasn’t going to rest until he got it.

Viceroy’s House does touch on the fact that Jinnah pursued Pakistan because he wanted to guarantee the safety of the Muslim minority living within India and he was convinced that without a separate state this would not be ensured.

But Jinnah did not conceive this idea independently. Nor so flippantly. Those who know the history of Pakistan and the struggle for a separate state will know that Jinnah was heavily influenced by philosopher  Muhammad Iqbal.

Furthermore, it was created to be a secular state, as Jinnah said in the days leading up to independence

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan … You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State … I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

But you see the more I think about this movie, the more I think, this wasn’t a historical story. It isn’t a documentary. It is a drama. It is entertainment with some factual basis. It is Gurinder Chadha’s story as she rightly said today. It is her narrative.

So although some of those who are linked to Partition will want to see their struggles represented, this is unfair to ask. Because a story has a million sides. Especially one that involves the independence of a nation and the creation of another.

At the end of the movie we are told that Gurinder Chadha’s grandmother survived partition, she crossed from Pakistan to India, her baby died on the journey there. She was one of the many millions of refugees. It is this story that will frame Chadha’s storytelling. I am not saying that Viceroy’s house is biased or partial. But your reading of history is influenced by your own experiences or of those who are close to you. They mark you because it becomes your history. Your heritage. Your identity.

So we cannot look to claim our history with Viceroy’s House, but what we can do is offer different perspectives.  It is only by encouraging others to tell their own stories of this traumatic and hugely significant period, that we can begin to truly understand its impact not just then, but now.

Gurinder Chadha has done a fantastic job with Viceroy’s House. She has told her story. It is up to you now to share yours.

Small Talk.

I’ve never been good at it. Its not that I lack the ability to schmooze. I just don’t enjoy it. It makes me feel like im at a speed dating event, passing through a number of people, exchanging snippits of information.
‘Hi I’m Sabbiyah, I’m 27 & I’ve got 3 kids, what about you?’
And on it goes until every subject is broached and the tennis ball drops. If you’re lucky someone else will join your convo and you can start from scratch.
I always find myself leaving events feeling dis-satisified, is it normal to want to go abit deeper? Continue reading “Small Talk.”

From Syria to Bradford: A refugee family’s tale

Last week it was revealed that almost half the Syrian refugees who have resettled in the UK have been housed in one area of Bradford.

Of the 216 refugees given sanctuary so far under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme 106 have been resettled by one organisation – the Horton Housing Association, based in Little Horton.

BBC Look North communities reporter Sabbiyah Pervez was born and raised in Little Horton as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and has been back to her childhood home to meet one Syrian family who represent the newest incomers to the area. Continue reading “From Syria to Bradford: A refugee family’s tale”

Malala Yousafzai – a product of education

“If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation.” Malcolm X. Sabbiyah Pervez is a voice from Bradford on the shooting of a brave young woman
School girls pray for the recovery of gunshot victim, Malala Yousafzai, in Multan, Pakistan. Doctors removed a bullet from the 14-year-old child campaigner shot by the Taliban in a horrific attack condemned by national leaders and rights activists. The attack took place in Mingora, the main town of the Swat valley in Pakistan's northwest, where Malala had campaigned for the right to an education during a two-year Taliban insurgency.

Schoolgirls pray for Malala Yousafzai’s recovery after doctors removed a bullet from the 14-year-old. Photograph: S S Mirza/AFP/Getty Images

Continue reading “Malala Yousafzai – a product of education”