What makes for a rebel? Does Malala Yousafzai qualify as a rebel? She has had to do more things that could, and indeed have, put her life in danger than anybody should have to. She went to school, got an education, wrote a blog, angered a whole bunch of zealots, got shot in the head, survived against all odds, and continues to speak out for education and freedom for girls. And she’s all of seventeen. She’s a rebel in my book; and I’d bet she’s one in yours.
Malala Yousafzai was born to a relatively progressive (Sunni) Muslim family; her father is described as an anti-Taliban activist. She is religious, but her religiousness takes away nothing from her feminism or her being a rebel. If anything, it makes what she’s achieved that much more impressive.
But, because she comes from a certain culture, she covers her head in public. I haven’t seen a picture of hers in which her head isn’t covered. I can’t find her having said anything to the effect that her covering her head is anything more than a cultural thing.
“No, I’m not becoming western, I am still following my Pashtun culture and I’m wearing a shalvar kamiz, a dupatta on my head. And I believe Islam is a true religion and it teaches us how to be patient and how to tolerate other religions and it teaches us about peace. Islam means peace.”
Malala Yousafzai’s wearing a scarf in public is cultural and she has betrayed no signs of not understanding this. Which is more than I can say for Masarat Daud.
Masarat Daud is a rural education activist and founder of the 8 Day Academy that provides (I think) vocational training for people in Rajasthan’s villages. She was also the organiser, at her ancestral village of Shekhawati, of the largest rural TEDx event. She is by all accounts doing good work helping people make better lives for themselves.
Masarat Daud is also the (self-)described ambassador for the burqa. Why does she wear it? By her own account (the one in the Tehelka article, not the TED talk; I can’t possibly sit through that), she was made to wear it as a teenager, told that she wouldn’t be allowed to go to school without it. She fought against it, but eventually made her peace with it.
“If you wear a gown, you cannot act like a crazy teenager on skates,” she explains. “Similarly, you carry a burqa with grace. I think, culturally the garment symbolises a girl growing up and acting ‘decent’ and perhaps conforming to a society’s view of what a cultured, sanskari girl should be like.” Initially, she hated the garment and told her parents that she would take off the burqa when she was in college. But a week later, she walked into a packed cafeteria during lunchtime, clad in her burqa. “It was social suicide,” she recalls.
The attitude of people around her changed and she was no longer expected “to be cool or to do cool things”. But Masarat took it as a challenge and eventually, she fell in love with the garment.
Now, she isn’t, I don’t think, saying that Muslim women who don’t wear burqas are childish, indecent, and uncultured. But what she is doing (or the Tehelka article is doing) is fetishising the wearing of this culturally imposed full-body tent.
Of the 750 million Muslim women in the world, a significant fraction, if not a majority, are forced to wear the burqa and stay within the four walls of their homes on pain of ostracism or physical abuse, or worse. Malala Yousafzai was shot through the head for daring to go to school. Is the symbol of this oppression really something to celebrate?