Historically, in India, we have instances of both unveiling and veiling that have been initiated by Indian Muslim women. The early 20th century saw many Muslim women joining the national movement, giving up veiling, feeling this was the only way for them to change their own, and the country's, future. Almost a hundred years later, the hijab continues to be a bone of contention in India, though in very different ways. On one hand, the rape threats that hijabi/non-hijabi women frequently encounter in the cyber world reflect the extreme desperation of the aggravated Hindutva millennials who are made to believe that unveiling Muslim women is their right while a large segment of Indian Muslim women are increasingly convinced that wearing the hijab is their constitutional prerogative. This collection of essays, primarily from India but also with a couple from Bangladesh and Iran, complicates the relationship between Muslim women and the hijab. Moving away from predictable interpretations that see the hijab merely as an instrument of Muslim women’s oppression, the essays here, from a variety of perspectives including historical, ethnographic, and political, demonstrate that not only have Muslim women covered/ or uncovered their heads for different reasons, but the head cloth itself has had different forms depending on the region or period of history. The essays track the reasons why clothing, especially women’s attire, is very often a site of contestation and provide ways to hear and understand the ways in which Muslim girls or women make their own sartorial choices. They also offer ways of interpreting the stakes in banning the hijab in different parts of the world, and the implications of the ban on Muslim women, the wider community and the very idea of citizenship itself.
P.K. Yasser Arafath is a historian of medieval and early modern India. His research papers and essays are published in edited volumes and peer-reviewed journals that include Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Economic and Political Weekly, Social Scientist, and The Medieval History Journal. His first book (co-edited with Haris Qadeer, London:2021) was titled Sultana’s Sisters: Gender, Genres, and Histories in South Asian Muslim Women’s Fiction. Currently, he is in the process of completing a monograph on Indian Ocean texts, titled Malabarnama: Intimate Texts, Ulema, and the Lyrical Resistance in the Age of Disorder (1500-1900). He was at the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, as the Dr. L.M. Singhvi Visiting Fellow in 2017.
G. Arunima is a historian and Professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and at present the Director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research. She has researched and published widely on both the historical and the contemporary contexts of India, focusing particularly on cultural, visual and material texts, and rethinking the politics of the contemporary. Currently she is completing a monograph on the cultural history of Kerala, bringing together questions of gender, caste and power, and ways of rethinking the social. Her publications include There Comes Papa: Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Kerala, Malabar ca 1850-1940 (2003); Love and Revolution in the Twentieth-Century Colonial and Postcolonial World: Perspectives from South Asia and Southern Africa, edited along with Patricia Hayes and Premesh Lalu (2021); He, My Beloved CJ (translation of Ivan Ente Priya CJ, Rosie Thomas's biography of her iconic litterateur husband, CJ Thomas, 2018). She contributes regularly to newspapers and news magazines.
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