‘Hey, she is a pakka Muslim in her headcover’, yelled one of my friends. I was playing with my mobile, and they were curiously watching even as I stared at a picture of a man with six pack abs! My friend thought of me as an orthodox girl, and she didn’t want to disturb my conservative conscience with that picture. Another friend, a boy commented ‘You wear a muftha in IIT!!’ To which, I replied , ‘This is what makes me what I am. This is an expression of my belief that I value and hold where ever I go. Some of my friends even asked me, ‘You talk of feminism, while you hide yourself in an attire which is an expression of suppression?’
I wish to travel back to the stage my self started to develop. My father is a man of preached values and ideals in his life and contrary to the fact that he was a fifth standard drop – out, he values nothing but acquiring knowledge. He is works abroad and usually spends around two months of unlimited fun in a year with us. My mother, the talkative one, with her sunken eyes and cheeks, which reflect her anxiety, is soft spoken but determined. I used to see her in the Namaz’s white dress, eyes and hands raised up in devotion, tears running down her face. Unlike my mother, my grand mother, or ‘matyemma’ (the other mother) as we call her, was a lady of less words. I lived with my grandmother during the two years of my pre-primary education.
Staying in a maternal joint family with uncles and their family, I missed my mother, who stayed in my father’s house to supervise the construction of our new house. Everyday I would come wearied of school calling ’Matyemmaaaa…….!’She removed my socks and shoes and fondled me while feeding me with tea and snacks. She never allowed me to watch TV with my cousins, but took me wherever she went. Story books accompanied me to all those places that fuelled my dreams of Alice in Wonderland and so on. This gave me a feeling that I was in a room of my own, which I soon realized that nobody else could understand.
At the same time the ‘we feeling’ of a joint family benefited me a lot. We were always engaged; everybody had a role to play. For me it was going to school, getting vegetables from the vendor, collecting the old plastics and paper that I could sell to the man who often came to collect these... in this way, I earned my pocket money.
When I moved to our newly built house, I was in first standard. Mother and I were the only occupants of that house. I had friends, and we played the game ‘Little Home’, by constructing a small house and taking on the roles of father, mother and children. Boys collected the materials to build the little house and girls were engaged in cooking. We even invited other friends and gave a miniature feast. Now I know that it was also a conditioning of something that a girl has to follow in her later life.
Every day we marched together to the nearest river. All the fun would disappear in the water where the boys played ‘hide and seek’ with our clothes. They make the placid river dirty with their reckless jumps from considerable heights. For them it was to make an impression, but for us it turned out be a form of suppression.
We girls were assigned the task of washing the clothes, which the boys were not. I felt as if my freedom was taken away by Surf Excel. Apart from that I was also accused of not cleaning the floor. These were not assigned to boys .It was again an anticipatory move for future roles to be taken by a woman, I understand now.
When I entered adolescence, I looked at the mirror, worried at the way I looked .It was an image created by my mother, father and many others. I asked myself by looking at my own body, where I saw unexpected changes, ‘Am I growing up as a woman like they all say? What is to worry even if I am growing?’ In a black red day, when I attained puberty, my mother reacted as if some unwelcome event had happened. At that moment, I felt that it was a shame to be at menarche. I told my mother:’ If you tell anybody of this, I will commit suicide’.
That didn’t happen even though it was much publicised and my close relatives presented me with ornaments, medicated food and new dresses. All moved into darkness when women in the neighbourhood whispered: ‘Take care of yourself, keep a distance from all males even if it is your father’. I was not allowed to step-out to do shopping, which I used to do till that moment. The saddest part is that I felt proud at doing what the boys at their homes are supposed to do. I am disowned of that proudness.
I soon realised that my gender is not biological but social. My community plays a key role in making me, I understood. I come from a community of Mappila Muslims in Northern Kerala, a community which possesses a history of discontentment within it. They were involved in the revolt against Lords and the State, known as Mappila rebellion which turned history around. The British beheaded the upsurge by exterminating thousands. The pain still lingers in the soil and in the minds too. The ashes of failure still remain. Educational backwardness multiplied as the Mappilas lost their identity. The low self-esteem of the members in community, guided by patriarchal norms reflected in the gender relations too.
I was not deaf to people telling my father, “Why should you waste your money by sending a girl child to an English medium school?” My father replied, “Your responsibility as a Believer will not be complete without the right kind of education being given to your children, especially to a girl child.’
I studied in a Madrasa, where we received religious instructions and morning classes. I have learned to take rituals, the Namaz, the prayer to be observed five times a day. I learned to recite the Quran, the holy book and amongst many other things, the dress to wear, the dos and do nots that are to be followed by a real Muslim. Fortunately it was not against my will to move along with modern education. This indeed was a looking glass effect, where I saw an image of me on the face of an other. When they imagined what I should be, I wished to meet their expectations not for their sake, but for mine.
In my journey so far, I have seen a lot of dreams .But the reality scares me. Due to the early marriageable age of my community ,my parents think that after all I am a woman and it is the right time to have to take the role of a wife and mother soon’. From the Muftha I wear, my friends expect me to be conservative and traditional, that I should not have a boyfriend, that I should not even talk to boys as I am orthodox in their minds. I have to synchronise public expectations and the conflicts within me, and I do because I have a dream.
Sumayya is a Second year student of Humanities and Social Sciences. This is from a term paper she wrote on Social Psychology and her endearing straight from the heart writing has us waiting in anticipation for more!