No hidden agenda: UPSC aspirant on why she objects to SC ban on hijab in examination halls

The recent Supreme Court judgement barring head scarves and other accessories during the All India Pre Medical Test has left Humaira Sarang perturbed.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | New Delhi | Published:August 2, 2015 1:00 am
Humaira Sarang in a lane outside her house in Dongri, Mumbai Humaira Sarang in a lane outside her house in Dongri, Mumbai

It was while working on a school project that Humaira Sarang’s relationship with the hijab or head scarf began. She was a 17-year-old researching women and their relationship with Islam. As she read up on the religion’s guidelines on how a woman should dress up and behave, they began to make sense to her. She decided she would cover her head hence.

Two years later, she would start wearing the burqa — while earlier she had stepped out in salwar-kurta or a pair of jeans. By the age of 20, a nakab (veil) concealed her face, never to be taken off in public again. The decision was made slowly and with deliberation, she says. She did not want to go back on her decision. “I thought it is prescribed for me and I should follow it,” she says, hinting at the influence of Islamic texts that she had started reading by then.
Now, seated in her fourth-storey ornate flat in Dongri, south Mumbai, the burqa is tucked away in the cupboard but the opinions of the 29-year-old flow freely. She is wearing a long cotton Pakistani suit. “It’s only in the house that I wear what I want. Out on the road, I prefer the hijab,” she says. Why? She ponders for a few seconds, then says: “It is…what makes Allah happy.” Her mother too wears a burqa outside the house and her elder sister started wearing one after her wedding.

To be married in two weeks, Sarang was never forced to wear a hijab, she says, by her “open-minded parents”. Her hotelier father prompted her to pursue a career in the Indian Administrative Services. She has made two attempts at the UPSC exams and a third one is to follow soon after the wedding. Government service would provide her a chance to improve the conditions of the minorities, she says.

The recent Supreme Court judgement barring head scarves and other accessories during the All India Pre Medical Test has left her perturbed. “Associating clothes with cheating is absurd. Why not increase the number of invigilators?” she asks. On Monday, a male friend told her about a national entrance exam in a Kanpur college, she says. “He was asked to remove his shoes, socks, belt, watch and part with his mobile phone. But in the exam room, he could sit anywhere, with anyone. An invigilator came to check once in 10 minutes. How does parting with a belt ensure you don’t cheat?” she asks.

Born and brought up in Dongri, Sarang went to Gloria Convent High School and then studied political science in Nirmala Niketan College. In cosmopolitan Mumbai, her choice to wear a hijab did not raise eyebrows in malls, theatres, coffee shops or on the streets. It was when she moved to Delhi to prepare for the UPSC test in 2010 that she realised she was viewed differently.

“Apartment hunting!” she sighs. It took months before she managed to find a place to stay in Mukherjee Nagar, north Delhi. Brokers suggested that she drop the hijab whenever she went to check out a house or meet the landlord. “Just like you wear what you wear, this is my dress. How can I remove it?” she had said, outraged.

While she was grocery shopping on a Delhi summer day, a man walked up to her and asked if she did not feel hot in a burqa. It was Humaira’s non-Muslim friend who came to her rescue: “Don’t you feel hot in your turban?” It’s true that the layers of clothing were difficult to manage initially, she admits, but she is used to it now.

She spent three years in Delhi until 2013, and through that period, remained acutely aware of glances directed her way. Once at a Metro station, a group of children pointed towards her male friend and her, saying, “Maulvi, maulvi”. She says she learnt to ignore it. A trip to the USA was much worse, she remembers. Her handbag’s contents were thoroughly checked at airports while other passengers walked through unperturbed. “The officials used a cloth swab to wipe the inner lining of the bag and scanned it. It was not embarrassing, just irritating,” she says.

She has to return to Delhi after her wedding, and is glad about one thing: “For Delhi’s climate, the hijab is extremely comfortable. In winters it protects, and in summers it acts like an insulating layer, cooling your body.”

The world of hijabs is fashionable too, she says. An avid online surfer, she mentions brands of headgear such as Inayah, Modanisa, Mevra, all based abroad. “A few days ago, I saw a girl wearing a hijab with Swarovski diamonds lining her sleeves,” she says.

It’s Dubai that knows how to make the hijab haute, she says, while in India, the black flowing georgette fabric remains the conventional option. “In Iran and Dubai, teenagers wear jeans and roll up their colourful hijabs up to their knees,” she says. Laces, frills, embroidery and net are now being used to personalise hijabs. Women also wear net veils, or add fake diamonds for designer outfits. The range starts from Rs 500 and touches Rs 50,000. Sarang prefers a simple black hijab though, except for a pure white one that she also owns.

“Like a ghunghat, the hijab is seen as a sign of oppression. But only in few cases is a girl forced to wear it. For the majority of women, it is a conscious decision,” Sarang says.

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  1. G
    Gazala
    Aug 4, 2015 at 11:47 am
    The holy Quran has devoted two verses to instruct followers about their dress. Sura Noor ayat no 30 instructs men to lower their gaze I front of women who are not related by blood or marriage.ayat no 31 is instructions for women. I request you to first check out these verses and then you are free to draw your own conclusions.
    Reply
    1. R
      raj
      Aug 2, 2015 at 2:45 pm
      Ajiesh that good one
      Reply
      1. A
        Amit
        Aug 2, 2015 at 7:13 am
        The author is trying to portray the girl as an exemplary figure, like a heroin (not bollywood, please). Her thoughts that she wears hijaab because it makes Allah happy, point to her set religious and "I-follow-what-I-am-taught" mentality. Really can wearing it really make Allah happy ? There is no logic to it. Al it does is satisfy the maulvis and the mullahs. This atude is not alien to Islam, but rather a widespread in all religions. The religious insutes have all of us trying to please them. Sometimes, it is in the form of a hijab, sometimes a mangalsutra. But the severity of this seems too high in case of Islam. If she feels how removing a belt helps in controlling cheating, may be she has not been to a regular Indian school. I still remember the various ways emplo by students during my schooling - including writing answers on your hands, girls writing on their thighs (skirts helped). A belt could definitely be a great place to hide your chittis. It is so stupid to object to Supreme Courts order. Every time something good is done in this country, people start bringing in their religions and make it look biased. For goodness sake, it is high time we all start thinking of the greater good and the nation. Before judging a law, we should ask ourselves does it help the nation even if it is a minor inconvenience for me. IE, please stop presenting such selfish views of narrow minded people as that of someone that needs to be followed.
        Reply
        1. B
          Biltu
          Aug 2, 2015 at 4:08 pm
          SO WE WILL HAVE TOP OFFICERS IN BURKHAS AND IF THE HINDU ZEALOTS HAVE THEIR WAY MAYBE EVEN GHIUNGHATS ? BRILLIANT.
          Reply
          1. H
            hari
            Aug 2, 2015 at 3:35 pm
            we don't need these kind of people who bring religion to administration as IAS/IPS. they will vitiate the w atmosphere...keep religion at home. if you want you follow the guidelines or else go get married and stay at home. There are lot other people waiting for the opportunity. Media should desist from publishing religious opinions again and again.
            Reply
            1. I
              Indian
              Aug 2, 2015 at 1:30 pm
              Did this stopped men behaviour towards over 1000 years history the answer is No. What we need in this iron age is good practice law of the land
              Reply
              1. K
                Khan
                Aug 2, 2015 at 6:03 pm
                Very heart-wrenching to hear the story! Now please collect the stories of Hindu and Christian girls in stan who are forced to cover their heads and publish it with the same honesty.
                Reply
                1. T
                  thakur
                  Aug 2, 2015 at 8:38 pm
                  Why stay in india go to stan
                  Reply
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