The hijab and sari both were considered to be oppressive pieces of clothing historically as their origins show evidence that both of the clothing items were made necessary for women to wear to be more modest. As we can see even now, not much has changed. Culturally in India, the sari is considered to be a traditional Indian outfit that reflects the values that our land promotes and the hijab is worn to cover the head so as to seem modest. Any liberal would agree that at the end of the day it is the choice of the wearer to wear what they like as long as they are comfortable in it. Few questions arise from this. Who decides what makes a woman look modest? Why has the sari changed in its form and the way it’s worn over time but not the hijab?
One way to look at this can be the religious aspect of it or the lack thereof. The wearing of the hijab has religious reasons behind it. In the pre-colonial era, women did not wear blouses or petticoats within their saris. It was only after the British colonialism that the idea of a woman’s modesty and sexual promiscuousness came. Women were told that they need to cover their bodies and not show skin so as to keep themselves pure.
The hijab, unlike the sari, has not gone through major changes. Its ideals remain more or less the same despite some amount of westernization brought into wearing the scarf. Off late, the hijab is seen as oppressive rather than someone’s choice to wear it as liberal. Sexual liberty of women is repressed, and she is seen as an object that can be dominated by men. Since the hijab is seen as the symbol of oppression, the West refuses to see it as a normal item of clothing. Rather it is seen as being forced upon the women who wear it. They completely ignore the perspective of those who voluntarily choose to wear it. Which perspective can then be seen as liberal? The West who wishes to free the Muslim women from the clutches of subjugation by the patriarchy or the women who choose to wear it despite a choice given to them?
The sari, on the other hand, has been changed in its style and pattern. It is no more worn for modesty purposes although it still represents the Indian values and traditions. The sari is also accepted at the global level as a formal dress. This might be because at one point in time the British patronized it. The changing forms of the women saree to seem more ‘sexy’ is also another factor that adds to its acceptance in the West.
Such debates and discussions do not have a single conclusion. At the end, it boils down to who believes in what and what they are comfortable in. A woman wearing a sari or hijab should be allowed to wear them with just as much as freedom of women who wear swimming costumes.