From the Zia dark years in Pakistan to the ‘hijab row’ in India

I was initially hesitant to add my two bits to the ‘hijab row’ in India about which so much has already been written. But I’m glad I did – gained a lot of insights and info that I tried to share with a wider audience. Thanks to Ullekh NP, Executive Editor at Open Magazine in India for prodding me. Published 25 Feb with the headline Hijab Row in India: Just Like Us, with a powchaerful illustration copied below. I’m thrilled that my SAWM sisters, the South Asian Women in Journalism, liked it enough to share it on their website under Article of the Day category. Posting the essay below with materials not used in the Open article, including my 1983 (or was it ’82?) piece in The Star with my own illustrations, HUNDRED AND ONE USES OF A CHADDAR, and link to Fahmida Riaz reciting her poem.

Illustration by Saurabh Singh for Open Magazine

WOMEN ACROSS SOUTH Asia and beyond have for centuries loosely covered their heads and bosoms, regardless of religion, shielding themselves from unrelated men as well as from the hot sun.

Those entering the work force in urban areas have been quicker to shed traditional attire. Those who find these changes threatening sometimes find ways to keep women in their place. Religion offers a convenient pretext.

The more conservative Muslim women in South Asia also traditionally wore a burqa, more all-enveloping than a chaddar or dupatta. My grandmother in Allahabad, U.P., used to wear a brown burqa that she discarded eventually in Karachi.

Growing up in Pakistan under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq, 1977-88, women like me have first-hand experience of such tactics. We watch in horror as shadows of the ZIa dark years seem to spread across the border into India.

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Lifting the veil: Queer life undercover in South Asia

AMZ-photo

“Secret” – fine art photo by Ali Mehdi Zaidi

The struggle of Muslim homosexuals in Pakistan, South Asia, or as expatriates is not just about LGBTQ rights but part of the larger fight for inclusion and pluralism within Islam. My essay published in The Boston Globe Ideas section (July 31, 2016)  on South Asian and Muslim attitudes towards homosexuality, reproduced below with additional links, info and photos, as well as parts not included in the final published version. The attack in the Orlando gay nightclub put the spotlight not just on the perpetrator, but his victims — Muslim gay (queer) folk who are particularly vulnerable to homophobia besides facing Islamophobia in the West, and receiving little or no support from the Muslim community at home and abroad. Plus they are now increasingly targeted by extremists claiming legitimacy from Islam. Thanks to all those who took the time to speak to me, gave feedback and entrusted me with their stories, and to the Boston Globe editors for their empathy and openness.  Continue reading

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