EP 17 - Muslim women and public spaces in India
Conversation with journalist Sameera Khan on women negotiating access and freedom of movement in contemporary times
In this episode, Main Bhi Muslim’s producer and host, Mariyam Haider, speaks to Sameera Khan, Mumbai-based, independent journalist, researcher and co-author of the critically acclaimed ‘Why Loiter - Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets'.
Over the years, Sameera has been a media trainer, guiding journalists on how to cover violence against women, particularly rape. She won the National Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity 2020 for her consistent engagement as a teacher, trainer, researcher and a journalist in promoting sensitive reporting on gender-based violence.
This episode comes in light of the ongoing Karnataka hijab issue, where hijab-wearing young Muslim women are being prohibited from entering certain pre-university colleges and educational institutions. At the time of this podcast recording, the state’s high court had reserved its judgement on the ongoing case.
In the podcast, Sameera shares her journey growing up in Mumbai and how it has shaped her identity as an Indian and a Muslim. Sameera and her family witnessed the 1992-93 Bombay riots that dramatically changed her relationship with the city. After that, Sameera began channelling some of her time and efforts towards researching Mumbai’s diverse Muslim community, their stories and histories with the city, along with her gender-based reportage.
This conversation goes beyond Muslim women’s access to public spaces, and touches upon the need to confront patriarchal constraints that women face in private and public spaces.
Sameera makes an important note during our conversation, “Women negotiate the public in different ways…They are constantly producing this safety and producing accessibility for them, in the absence of state structures and institutions not providing it for them.”
Her central opinion on the Karnataka hijab issue is the need for diverse, inclusive classrooms that enhance women’s access to education in the country. She has also written a piece for Scroll on this issue.
In her effervescent voice, Sameera points out to Muskan Khan (student at PES College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Mandya) in the video where she stands up to a group of saffron-clad men heckling her for wearing hijab. “She is driving her two-wheeler, has a hijab…She is mobile. She is on her own vehicle. She has come by herself to college, nobody has dropped her…and yet…all you can see is the scarf on her?”, Sameera emphasises.
Finally, we discuss the idea of women claiming public spaces for fun, joy and simply to be themselves. This conversation is timely and offers a nuanced understanding of Muslim women transforming the mainstream discourse around identity politics (with or without the hijab) in India. Do give it a listen.
PS: There’s a superb Alia Bhatt reference towards the end of the conversation, for listeners :)
With warmth and gratitude,