By Manasvini Ranganathan
We read a story in class about a foolish emperor. The emperor’s subjects exclaimed how wonderful and exquisite his clothes were when in reality he was naked. But at least his folly resulted in his nakedness and not that of his subjects.
I looked at the empty seat beside me and my laughter died. This class had been her safe space, but not anymore. I went this morning to accompany her to class and show her my support. She took a step out gingerly but hurried back inside. “I feel like I am naked without it”, she exclaimed. I couldn’t understand the feeling. She then asked me “You never wear sleeveless, right?” I nodded my head. I find it uncomfortable. Would I be able to wear it outside? I definitely cannot do so without trepidation and anxiety. I find clothes are a form of expression and security. If I am forced to do without sleeves I feel the embarrassment of my naked arms. I want to wear what I feel comfortable in so that I can confidently face my day. And many people I know feel the same.
I turned to my right and saw another empty seat. She had been trembling and tearful as she begged to come to class, but stepping outside without covering her head was out of the question. She may be forced to drop out of this class.
I stepped outside the class after the lecture. The sun was scorching and dust flew about. I looked through my bag, trying to search for my shawl. I took it out and wore it onto the street to shield my face and hair from the sun and dust. What I wear looks not much different from the hijab my classmates wore. So, is the only difference the fact that they identify as Muslim?
Manasvini is an LL.M. candidate at Azim Premji University, Bangalore.
(This work is a creation of the author’s artistic liberty)
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