By Dr. Bashir A. Dabla
A general impression has been created in India that the Muslim women who practice Hijab are usually illiterate, dogmatic, irrational and backward. The image of Muslim women is presented as one which supports backwardness and opposes forwardness. In this imaginary world, they pose Hijab as the practice which opposes change and development of women. So, they sympathize with the condition of Muslim women in India and wish to ‘liberate’ them from this practice. But, the reality related to these propositions is not correct empirically and scientifically. The opposite situation seems true in the case of Kashmir, as revealed by one survey – the survey wherein the need was felt for an objective observation and scientific investigation to look into the matter whether the practice of Hijab obstructs the change and progress of Muslim women.
Hijab essentially refers to a particular dress code for Muslim women to be adopted outside home throughout life time. This, according to them, reflects a distinctive religious and cultural symbol and stands for their protection, dignity and safety. But, at the same time, there seems a lot of misunderstanding about Hijab among many intellectuals in India, especially belonging to Hindu community. They feel that it hurts the personal dignity and negate equal status to Muslim women. Moreover, it had negative effects on their health. On the other hand, the upholders of Hijab, particularly the Muslim scholars, feel that it stands for religious obligation, chastity and safety of women, and the cultural symbol.
The main hypotheses of proponents and opponents of Hijab were scientifically assessed and investigated through the adoption of scientific methods. That enabled us to the rational explanation of the existing phenomenon of Hijab in the Muslim society in Kashmir. The survey was done in Kashmir province which composes of the ten districts – Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla, Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam, Ganderbal, Bandipora, and Kupwara with the field work done in 2013-14. The sample of respondents included Muslim women in Kashmir, all practicing Hijab. This group of women was selected on specific sociological criteria which included age, marital status, rural-urban belonging, language, educational qualification, family income, self-occupation wearing various types of Hijab. The data was collected formally and informally. It was aggregated, tabulated and explained scientifically. That enabled the researcher to arrive at certain logical conclusions.
Some interesting findings are given next. An overwhelming majority, 77 percent wore simple or reformed type of Hijab which covers the whole body except hands, face and head; the head covered by scarf. Those who voluntarily have adopted Hijab were 66 percent, 31 percent did it after being persuaded and only 3 percent responded as doing it after being forced.
It was shown that majority of women practiced Hijab voluntarily and willingly, i.e. as their own initiative due to several reasons, especially religious and cultural reasons, while a little minority had to adopt it forcefully under the pressure of family or threat or advice from parents and other family members. It follows that huge majority of women in Kashmir practiced Hijab either voluntarily or on the advice of their parents.
Statistics reflected different periods of observance of Hijab. Majority of women (34 percent) practiced it for 01 – 04 years. Only 10 percent among the respondents observed it for 11 and more years. It follows from the survey that sizeable number of women practiced Hijab and their number is increasing in the past few decades.
A huge majority of 69 percent of women who practiced Hijab were employees working in government and non-government offices on permanent or temporary basis, while almost 27 percent who practiced it were students. The former category practiced Hijab inside and outside their homes and offices.
It was revealed that majority, i.e. 94.25 percent practiced Hijab because of religion. In fact, they considered it a religious obligation and religious duty. While 03.75 percent practiced it due to cultural factor, 02.00 percent had observed it because of personal factors. While in the former case, Hijab reflected the cultural identity, the latter represented the personal identity.
Positive implications mentioned by 92.50 percent of respondents refer to social appreciation, encouragement and protection by other members of society, while negative implications mean non-appreciation of this practice and avoiding the company of Hijab women.
Social units showed their response in the proportion of 99.00 percent and 96.00 percent respectively. So, there was complete acceptance and appreciation for maintenance of Hijab practice. On the other hand, a tiny minority of women, 01.00 percent in family and 04.00 percent in community/society, conveyed disapproval and undesirability of this practice. 15 percent of women felt that Hijab is primarily and essentially a cultural practice. So, it must not necessarily be attached to religion. They feel that culture and religion represent two separate entities.
Impressions held by non-Muslims in India about the practice of Hijab and its impact has no valid scientific base. These seem incorrect and away from factual reality. Such statements reflect certain degree of bias. Hijab practice in Kashmir has created no serious hurdle in the functioning of day to day normal social life. It has not put any obstacle in change and development of the Muslim women. It was observed that Hijab was prevalent in the Kashmiri society from earlier times after conversion to Islam, but it has increased tremendously in past few decades. The emergence of this new trend can be explained in terms of exogenous and indigenous developments. While the later refers to educational, economic, political and other developments in the state, the former refers the political, religious and other developments in the Muslim world, particularly in Iran. It seems important to note here that this trend represented a self-initiated effort and was not imposed by any force.
There seems no co-relation between Hijab and backwardness, Hijab and illiteracy, and Hijab and underdevelopment. Rather a correlation was observed between Hijab and education, progress and change. Moreover, Hijab women had better upward mobility and better occupational chances than non-Hijab women and the former had many material achievements comparatively.
In totality, Hijab in practice has proved progressive and emancipating. Those who practice it are quite ahead of non-Hijab women in all fields, especially education, economic status, mobility pattern, achievements in life and so on. Moreover, Hijab has contributed irrespective of differences in social, economic and cultural fields.
Finally, the adoption of Hijab has emerged as behavioural feature of the concerned Muslim women. While this practice in continuity has influenced the entire way of life, it involved women of all classes, groups and communities in Kashmir. The prevailing political and religious conditions in Kashmir have supported the practice of Hijab.