The other day my family sat together for iftaar – an evening meal with which we, Muslims, end our Ramadan fasts with.
After a sumptuous meal, it was time to return the cutlery that came from other people’s houses. But when my family members looked at me to do so, I cast my eyes. I shouldn’t be the one doing chores all the time just because I’m a girl. I refused to move from my place.
“Didi, you already have equality, what more do you want?” said, my sibling. We then went on to recount every single selfless act we’ve done for our mother ever since we were born.
I watched my exasperated mother clear the table and snatched the towel from her before she could start cleaning and began scrubbing it down instead. While doing so, I reminded my family of the multiple times I’ve cleaned the table.
As I did, my brother retaliated by recounting his many contributions of buying milk and doing other chores before slamming the door and locking himself up in his room.
As I poured my anger on tea and oil stains, I remembered having another conversation with my family where they said, “You already have equality, what more do you want?”
As it turns out, my life as an educated and privileged Muslim girl is not without arbitrary restrictions.
Also read: Growing Up in a Hindu Bubble
I come from a Muslim community where we organise an annual talent show of sorts for the members of the community to bond over. Everyone loves it. I used to love it too. I would participate in quizzes and perform skits with my cousins; my mum would write the script and also direct it on stage. For me, it was a wonderful initiative until I reached the fifth grade.
When I turned 10, they told me that I can no longer participate in the show. It didn’t make any sense because all my cousin brothers – of my age – would continue participating. Confused and frustrated, I fought and rebelled.
Why was I suddenly no longer allowed? Had I committed some grievous crime by being born a girl?
They said I was growing up, and because of that, the men watching the show would sexualise me – a young girl who is already wearing a hijab.
They didn’t allow me to participate in debate competitions either – an activity my competitive soul would yearn to participate in. I knew I was talented and could even win! Instead, I was made to sit in a corner and listen to middle-aged men talk about how “liberated” Muslim women are because they (men) allow them to become doctors and teachers now.
I had to watch someone less deserving win and receive the trophy on stage.
My family members think it’s okay to curb someone else’s freedom. I want to tell them that they’re wrong.
About six months ago, I was about to get a trophy for scoring the highest marks in my class, but my parents were against me going up on stage and receiving my trophy. They didn’t want me to walk up to the stage and collect my trophy as all the boys did. I argued with my parents, challenging something that had gone unquestioned for over a decade. I was clearly ruffling a few feathers.
I even argued with my male cousins and other family. They said that getting the recognition was good enough. “Why do you want everyone’s attention by walking up on stage?” they said.
I sat down, and as I did, a hundred questions crept into my mind.
Was I declaring war where there was no battle to be fought? Was I doing it all for attention? How do I explain the importance of collecting the trophy myself? How do I explain that it was not the recognition but the respect that I craved for? How do you honour someone without letting them accept the honour with their own hands?
I even agreed to wear my Hijab to not offend their religious sensibilities, yet they still didn’t allow me to go up on stage.
“You give me wings, teach me how to fly but when I spread my wings, you snip them” I bellowed.
My school teachers didn’t want to court any controversy by offending my community members. As a result, the chief guest gave away all the awards from a seat in the ladies section and refused to distribute them on stage.
After quietly receiving my trophy, I sat back down with my clipped wings and watched a lawyer being felicitated on stage for talking about how Muslim women should take charge of their lives, raise their voices, know their rights and contribute to society.
Meanwhile, my documentary lay somewhere – forgotten, perhaps forbidden like me from appearing on stage.
Featured image credit: Unsplash