A beautiful young girl of barely 24 years strode into the Metro station on the main line at eight. She wore sleeveless top tucked into her denim jeans and her feet were in a beautifully designed pair of shoes. Every head turned in her direction as she entered the room for women and came out within two minutes. But now she had hidden herself under a black burqa. The bottom edge of her jeans peeped out from below her burqa and her shoes confirmed that it was same girl.
I showed my Press Card to her to stop her so I could talk to her to unravel the mystery of her hiding under the burqa. She told her story that I produce hereve. Her name was Tasneem Hussain a post graduate of Delhi University and living in the ancestral home in the interior of Jama Masjid all her life. As soon as her results declared her a post graduate with first class, she had applied two years ago for a job with a prominent Tours and Travels agency with their office located in a posh market of Delhi in Connaught Place. Her looks as well as her answers pleased Hardeo Sharma to offer her an immediate job of Public Relations Manager with a salary of Rs. 12000 a month.
Her mother Zohra was pleased that she had got an offer of a lucrative job but she had asked her to express her inability to join. Puzzled by her attitude Tasneem sought the reason. Her mother who could barely read or write explained that Muslim women cannot travel by public transport as most of them are subjected to body pinching by young male passengers particularly if they were travelling alone.
While attending college, she had never travelled by bus. She cycled or on rare occasions she got a ride from parents of her classmates. They were also picked up by car on their return. The easy and comfortable transport did not subject her to any sort harassment. But it had left her wondering from 12 years of age why Muslim women, married or unmarried lived like prisoners bound by limits of Jama Masjid or Turkman Gate.
Her mother too had ventured out only twice in her thirty years of married life when she travelled by cab to the railway station to go to Bareily to visit her parents and for the marriage of her two sisters. Both times she had her husband with her.
She did not like the injunction imposed by her parents though she could understand their concern. They were right as she would not have been able to dress herself the way that the job demanded. Boys rarely came to know that she was a Muslim as she had never donned the burqa to attend college.. Only those who got to know her name knew that she was a Muslim girl but they never allowed religious distinction stand in their relations.
Her father was glad when she agreed to join a Publisher’s office job in nearby Nayee Sadak. The pay offered was half of what she would have earned in the other job. The job required her to maintain count of books that came from the printing press and were despatched to various book sellers. As books were high school text books, she had no interest in reading them in her spare time and job became boring and tiresome.
Then she came to know of the Metro train that she could easily take from a station close to her home and office to Connaught Place. By travelling in the reserved compartment for women, she could avoid contact men.
One Saturday she took her mother to travel up to a coffee shop in Connaught Place. It was the first time her mother had stepped out into the wide open world from her prison. Her mother did not ask her how much she paid as her attention was on young giggling girls, most of them in short skirts or shorts with sleeveless tops. She could see that they were freely giggling unmindful of the young men staring at them but no one dared to come to close to them. Tasneem did not know what went on in her mother’s mind but was surprised at her silent brooding all the way back home.
After dinner that night, she was half asleep when her mother came to her. Moving her hand softly over her head, she softly asked, “Tasneem, can you find out tomorrow if the job with Travel agency was available even now?” She was surprised but to discourage her from entertaining fancy ideas, she said,” Come on Mummy. Jobs cannot remain vacant for a year.” But her mother insisted she find out. Tasneem was surprised to hear cheerful voice of Hardeo Sharma asking her to immediately join on a higher salary.
The following Monday she wore her sleeveless top and denims and her mother brought her a burqa saying that she must put this on from home to station and also on her return in the evening.
Your father also insists on your wearing this when you are walking up to the Metro station she added.
To her queries, her mother simply said, ‘Why invite trouble?’
The girl understood and smilingly said that was the reason why she put on burqa now. She added with a mischievous smile, why don’t you visit India Gate lawns in the evenings on Saturdays and Sundays? You will find many married Muslim women with their burqa tucked in frequenting the lawns with their children. They never dared to go to India Gate lawns earlier. But the Metro has brought a social reform. They are also now free Indian women.
Her statement was a real eye opener to me.