Teachers, religion, feminism and discourse: analysis from Bangladesh perspectives

GenderKevin S. Boiragi and Pamelia Khaled: Bangladesh Secondary education system is facing challenges of quality issues (curriculum and teachers) remarkably. Holy Cross Girls’ High School test question writing style is one of the prodigious example as this famous institution is recognized as a symbol of the oldest English medium education in Bangladesh.

Creative course questionnaire of Islamic Studies of tenth grade suggested that indecent western attire is provocative and cause for molestation of girls. This suggestion reflects Bangladeshi Muslim clerics and conservative Muslims one sided puritanical view evidently. It asserts how women’s attire can be a critical issue in a multicultural country like Bangladesh.  We urge that teachers in Bangladesh must be trained how to write question papers including for Islamic Studies after Holy Cross fiasco, as this puritanical point of view can be harmful for girls/women who are from other religion and liberal culture.

The Holy Cross Girls’ High Schoolheld the first term exam for tenth grade for Islamic Studies (Creative) course on last Monday. The discussion topic of the creative course paper was similar to this theme: Girls need to wear modest attire to avoid extra attention of boys.

Question No. 5 (  the total mark of the Islamic Studies, Creative course paper is 50)  recommends that  girls must wear modest attire and behave as docile and gentle instead of  western  brief and tight attires such as skinny Jeans and T Shirts. Because these attires are the source of provocation for molestation and harassment. Preparing this ambiguous question Islamic Studies teacher tried to make a link with the puritanical view of Islam regarding women’s attire.

Creative course material narrated a recent story of women harassment in Bengali New Year festival, 2015, the incident occurred during the daylight in front of a large number of festival goers. Islamic Studies teacher tried to establish the fact why girls need to wear modest attire, because this way they can avoid attention of boys.  Unfortunately, during the festival these harassed girls did not wear so called western attires, tight jeans or T shirts; they wore traditional clothes, Salwar and Kamiz, and Sari largely.

The question paper assembled a few questions similar to these: What is the meaning of modesty? Why a girl should maintain modesty while she dresses up, explain. To save norms and values of the society why following a girl is necessary, who maintain modesty choosing her attire and practice gentle and pleasant behavior. What is the role of modesty in building a healthy society , explain in light of Quran?

We consider that religious curriculum/education is known for transformational curriculum/ education as this education supports to develop learner’s self/soul development. However the Holy Cross fiasco do not tell us how exactly Islamic Studies curriculum and its creative course is transformational. If school confirms and reproduces the home culture and individual’s /teacher’s religious culture how is it transformational, it is rather transmissive.

Discussing the above critical issue such as lack of teacher’s education and quality of curriculum, we employ another example, Sunny Leone clothing line story that is interlinked with the puritanical view of Islam. Sunny Leone a designer of Shalwar Kameez suits of 2014-2015. The Bollywood is inspired by the designer’s dresses including women of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many women these days preparing for coming Eid and collecting admirable designs of traditional dresses of Sunny Leone. This designer advertised that ” we have brought Sunny Leone Designer Shalwar Kameez Collection for women. You can wear these designer dresses in Eid festival, wedding ceremonies, parties and formal functions”.

While this call seems problematic to conservatives, one lady updated her facebook status critiquing the designer as Sunny Leone (was) is a porn star, so her designed dress should be boycotted by the Muslim women. She clears that rather Muslim women must wear loose attire and hijab followed by Hazrat Fatema , Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. She is concerned of those women’s piety who fall for Sunny Leone’s clothing line. She declares those women as the rotten segment of the society. This facebook status reflects puritanical /patriarchal view of Islam and also an outcome of transmissive education system.

Feminist activism lacks intellectual engagements and active confrontations of discourses that promote and sustain patriarchy in Bangladesh presently. The above Sunny Leone post is taken from radioshongi.com on Facebook, it is alleged that this post was made by a female blogger whose name we do not include here. We intend to engage in such a discussion that may encourage critical scholarship- feminism in Bangladesh in particular in analyzing discourses, a much needed thing to happen than anything else presently.

We find the post is problematic for a variety of reasons, we mention the following four here: a) Sunny Leone; b) Porn; c) Fashion; and d) Religion.

Karenjit Kaur Vohra (Wikipedia), popularly known as Sunny Leone was born in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada in a Punjabi family. She may have started her professional career in the porn industry, but currently she is very much active in Bollywood films; albeit performing sensual roles (consider this as a commodity). Due to media reporting and our perceptions around porn, her biggest identity to us is a porn star prior an actress. The rationale here is the stigma attached with porn. Porn satisfies hundreds of millions of viewers all over the world, none of them are stigmatized, not even the actor, but the actress. What about the male actor who performs in the same video with Leone? Why is he less ‘famous’ than Leone?

In our patriarchal societies, we always look for ways to colour women as the ‘other’, we constantly try to set a perfect example by stigmatizing, so that we can create a contrary picture of a just ‘us’. Please note, ‘we’ and ‘us’ here represent both male and female who patronize patriarchy (question may arise, what if these women are forced to patronize- fair enough, but that is for later discussion). We try to follow similar argument made by Said in Orientalism (1978), the difference here is that we consider patriarchy in Bangladesh as the ‘occident’, and the women as ‘orient’.

Let us take the example of the brothels in Doulatdia, Aricha or Bani Shanta in Mongla. Why do those women who take prostitution (for a variety of reasons) as professions are constantly stigmatized and othered than the men who visit them? These women are first prostitutes, then human beings, and lastly, they are voters in a so called democratic state.

This raises few concerns, questioning and analyzing these concerns are absent in the feminist arena. We suggest feminists of these days in Bangladesh need to raise their voices followed by the movement without sitting back on their couches reading Begum Rokeya, womenchapter.com, Judith Butler or Bell Hooks, or chanting in Shahbagh every now and then. (to be contd)

Kevin S. Boiragi, York University;

Pamelia Khaled, University of Toronto,

error: Content is protected !!