Young women, in their early 20’s, zip around Aurangabad on their scooties, cousins of the Vespa. They’re everywhere, en route to meet friends, reach college or the office, or do errands for the family. Sometimes, there’s someone sitting behind them and sometimes, they are flying solo. They are independent and confident, claiming their space under the sun as much as anyone else.
Which is why it feels disturbing to see them mask and cloak themselves before they set out, until the only thing you can see of them is their eyes. They take a scarf or stole, wrap it around their head and face, and tie it tightly at the nape. By the end of it, they are completely veiled. With shades, they become unrecognizable. Hidden. Erased.
I don’t quite understand it. I have heard two explanations, both given by my own female cousins who fall into this same group. One story goes that they want to protect their faces and arms from the sun, to avoid darkening their skin. That sounds a bit silly to me. Sun block lotion is widely available, and would be far more effective, not to mention less claustrophobic.
The second explanation goes that these women are out when they are not supposed to be, meeting boyfriends who should not exist. In other words, they are sneaking out in broad and public daylight. Flouting family dictates and societal norms, they are rebels, seeking out their freedom.
Hmmm. That gives me pause. My first reaction was to think the exact opposite- I thought, why are these young women of the 21st century covering themselves up like they are in oppressive, medieval times? Do they feel so insecure to move around among men in their own skin? I almost felt like they are taking women’s freedoms backwards, so that the odd woman who chooses not to cover herself ends up looking like the deviant. That is worrisome.
Instead, it seems there might be an alternate interpretation, suggesting rather that these women are at the vanguard of pushing social boundaries. They might be breaking the reigning norms around pre-marital relationships, creating a new mould for healthier dynamics among men and women. In a society where dating has been actively frowned upon, this is outright revolutionary.
I can’t make up my mind what I feel about this. I’ll have to understand it better.