What does the attack on Gauhar Khan tell us?

Photo credit: The Independent
Photo credit: The Independent

The image above shows actress and TV star Gauhar Khan left shocked after audience member Akil Malik slapped her during the filming of a TV show for wearing a ‘revealing’ backless outfit. According to Mumbai Police, he justified his actions by stating that “being a Muslim woman, she should not have worn such a short dress.”

This incident has been on my mind since yesterday, when reports first emerged in the UK media. What surprises me is how this male managed to get passed 250 security guards and an audience consisting of 2,500 people and failed to get spotted as he made his way on stage and carried out the attack.

But this isn’t the only issue plaguing my mind. It is simply horrific that Khan was subjected to this act of violence because of her clothing and a desire to express herself through it. Not only has she been traumatised, she has been denied the right to choose.

Now, I understand that the Muslim woman is expected to cover herself, but I think we can all agree that this aspect of the religion does not follow suit on a national or global level. While some females may adhere, others do not choose to  cover themselves and ultimately, a choice is made to dress how they wish. While Khan may be Muslim, we must not forget that she is a woman, and more specifically, a human. What is wrong with Khan’s decision to wear what she wants? Should one be condemned for following a religion, believing in a God but doing it in a way that fits them? If that brings them solace but angers us, then why should we interfere and try and condemn them? Why should we play God? Wouldn’t God then be angry that humans were trying to steal his thunder anyway?

More importantly, however, if someone has decided to mould a religion to what they want it to be, then why does religion need to exist at all?

The slapping of Khan has acted as a warning for women of fame and fortune to cover up or face being subjected to violent treatment. Indian society seems to be saying:

“we’ll watch you on our screens, but if you appear in front of us in reality, wearing what we feel is ‘inappropriate’ clothing, then we have the right to make sure we violate that body and let you know that you’ve done wrong”.

Malik’s slapping of Khan is an attempt to control the female body and show that it is men who will decide and carry out a fitting punishment for women who are not doing what is ‘right’.  It’s a clear, patriarchal mentality to inhibit and shun female expression, success and sexuality, and it is wrong. Gauhar Khan has been victimised and found herself on the receiving end of everything that is wrong with how women – whether celebrities or not – are viewed. We are constantly hearing of the ridiculous suggestion that women should dress less provocatively in order to prevent sexual assault and rape, but these people fail to consider that men could change their attitudes to it. It is the perverse and patriarchal male gaze and the view that women are unequal and bodies offering unrestricted sexual and/or violent access that produces such defaming attacks on innocent women. Gauhar Khan will now think twice before wearing an item of clothing and stepping outside the house. One slap, and her whole outlook on her body, the way she presents it and her confidence will now change.

In my view, the slap was an act of hatred under the guise of religion. We should be questioning the perpetrator himself and asking whether he practices Islam in a way that is 100% accurate. How do we know whether or not Malik – who apparently condemns Bollywood actress for ‘exposing’ themselves – sits in his living room enjoying the show of flesh himself? What if he is indulging too? How can anyone know whether he is perfect? Who gives him the right to endanger a woman and enforce the ‘right’ way of doing things?

Gauhar Khan, although now ‘recovering’ from the situation, should not have had to face this. Muslim or not, she should decide what she wears and how she carries herself. We may raise our eyebrows, but at most, that is all we should do when pondering over the inconsistencies that religion brings out in people.

Sometimes, people just want to be themselves. Live with it.

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