A 20 year old girl from Hyderabad, born in a Muslim Family, had to surpass regressive behavior which is well disguised in the name of culture. She has passed out Integrated Professional Competence Course (IPCC), and now is pursuing her article ship in a Chattered Accountancy firm in Hyderabad.
She was named Zeenath Jahaan by her grandmother. Her grandmother sowed the first seeds of feminism in her, “She had a reputation of being a cruel and proud lady. But, she was also the most daring and lovely manifestation of feminism that I ever saw. She is the bravest,” said Zeenath.
Zeenath’s mother was a Brahmin. To marry her father, the Brahmin mother had to convert herself into a Muslim. A love marriage with terms and conditions. Zeenath says that her mother, no matter what never lost sight of Islam and is an ardent follower of it.
“She stood by Islam like its gatekeeper and brought me up, to the best of her abilities as a Muslim child. Her list of achievements include, making me complete ‘The Quran’ by the age of nine.” She said.
By the age of 13, Zeenath had read the translation of Quran into English. That is when she stopped being religious. She says, “Objectively, I couldn’t bring myself to nod a yes to everything it said. Something over which, the family and I have been at loggerheads with each other till date.”
By the time she was 11, her father had left for Saudi Arabia pursuing a job. Zeenath said that she hardly ever missed her father all these years, mostly because he talks to both Zeenath and her mother for about four hours each day.
But the main reason why she didn’t miss her father, was because her mother saw to it that nothing changes in her life. “My mother played both the roles (mother and father) to a perfection,” she said.
But even though with strong mother and an even stronger grandmother, her world was going to come down crashing.
When she was 17, Zeenath and her mother shifted from Vishakhapatnam to Hyderabad. Now, with the move to a bigger city, and noticing that Zeenath was ‘coming of age’, her father wanted her to don the all-covering Abaya, or the burqa.
Zeenath is a proud woman, and she was proud about how she looked. Which means she now has to cover her pride. “I hated every moment of it. At the end of the day, I stripped the garment of its emotional burden and looked at it like just a sad black thing to avoid having a fight with him,” she said.
She wore it each day to IPCC classes. These classes were again dominated by Muslim men. She was identified as a Muslim, and with just a glance Muslim men were interested. She was not. “I was harassed, followed, begged to yield and I didn’t,” Zeenath said.
But slowly, she got tired of Burqa and the sorrow it brought. “I was able to work out an agreement with my mother, and then I discarded it. But, that had a drastic outcome,” she said.
“The men who wanted me in my class took to blind rage. My name was written on the walls, on the elevators, on the walls of all the washrooms. I was slut shamed and looked at like I violated their sanctity,” Zeenath said.
Even with all the absurdity that was happening around Zeenath, she prevailed. “I completed the course and cleared the exam and never saw their sorry faces again,” She said with a smug smile on her face.
“That experience let me fight every person who argued clothes had anything to do with modesty and security.” She concluded.
After that, she started her article ship in a highly reputed firm where people were warm, understanding and receiving. The article ship phase of chartered accountancy is of great rigour. The work and the timings are very demanding. And one has to travel with no reservations, the seats and the people.
Her entire family was proud of her, she cleared two exams notorious for their single digit pass percentages in one go and had only one exam left to become a professional Chartered Accountant. She earned all the freedoms that she enjoys.
But, the freedom that came with excelling in her education, was not digestible for her extended family. Her cousins mumbled disapproval and her uncles made snarky remarks. But, not one had the courage to tell it to her face or to her parents.
Then, she told her mum that she loved someone, and that it meant a lot to her.
“Now, here is where my mother and father withdrew all their emotional support for two months. I had to fight tooth and nail and the person I love also got dragged into this fight. This was a year ago.” She said.
Since, then her extended family was slowly informed of this by her mother. “My mother is always the first person to understand what I go through and she is the first person to take my side,” Zeenath said firmly.
The extended family though, did not show the same amounts of support her mother did. “That’s when their mumblings became direct attacks. They told my parents how I was spoilt and how they shouldn’t have given me my freedom,” she said.
Zeenath is still fighting her family to accept the man she loved. And it seems that she is determined to see it through.
“I saw men being uncomfortable with the idea of a woman who could do what she wanted and who didn’t have to explain herself. I saw men like my father, who were blindly religious and valued women within those boundaries. And I saw men like my boyfriend, who knew love and respect didn’t come with terms and conditions.”
She is still doing her article ship, which will end after two more years. “I still am fighting small battles to bring dignity to the life I lead,” She concluded.
It is not just Zeenath who has to go through this kind of harassment. This story is true for a vast number of women in India.
Author - @vidura_t