Personally I don’t feel that me dressing like a Hindu, behaving like a Hindu, and generally living like a Hindu is at all appropriative. I am a Hindu, so I think it’s appropriate! Sure, there aren’t particular clothes that are labeled as Hindu, but there are clearly clothes in which you fit in during Hindu worship and clothes in which you do not.
I’ll tell you what is entirely inappropriate of me. I covet some of the religious expressions of religions that are not my own!
I’m reluctant to admit this, but I am fascinated by hijabs in a completely racist and insensitive way. Women who wear hijab look to me exotic, mysterious, beautiful, and interesting. I stare at them. I subconsciously think that they must be saintly and pure and perfect. I love to look at pictures of hijabi women. I know! It’s shocking, right?
I try to keep my racism in check by reminding myself that that’s what it is.
Strangely, I’ve always felt drawn to extremely restrictive religions. Before I realized that I was a Hindu and I always had been, I was searching for the right religion for my life. I kept finding myself leaning towards the most conservative versions of religions.
My best friend growing up was Jewish and I was attracted to Judaism as a religion, particularly for its community. Yet, when I spent time in Jewish groups and activities, somehow I always idolized the Orthodox.
I liked their head covering too.
(Funny story: I dressed very modestly in college and a lot of people assumed I was Orthodox Jewish since I also have the dark hair and light skin that could easily be taken to be Jewish. My close friend there, who was Jewish, and I decided to dress me up as Orthodox for Halloween. We thought it was hilarious. No one else got the joke. They all thought I was Orthodox).
I learned about branches of Christianity where women wore head covering full time and submitted to their husbands and didn’t date, but trusted God to bring them a man, who had huge families and wore ankle length skirts. I spent a lot of time reading about them and their stories. In a lot of ways they reminded me of home and the ankle length skirts we wore at SES, the misogyny that was rampant there, and the Victorian ideals we were held to.
We drove through Amish country when visiting my grandmother and I LOVED the Amish bonnets and dresses.
It was always in the clothes. I have this tendency to think that if I dress like a demur and saintly woman, that I will become it. As though what I wear is the only thing that matters or that it creates my behavior (Well, actually, it can a little bit. Just not as much as I give it credit for!)
Luckily I was self-aware enough to realize that what I liked in these other religions was their fashion and (duh) that’s ridiculously shallow. Not a reason to follow a religion. I don’t pick my religion based on which has the best clothes!
Okay, so I didn’t realize that immediately. I did briefly try covering my hair but I didn’t want to have to talk about it or explain it to my parents and so I did it as subtly as possible. Not subtle enough to fool my brother who really knows me very well and is sharp-eyed. He caught on to what I was doing and called me on it!
As a Hindu, I don’t cover my hair. I know in some regions women pull their pallu over their heads for worship, but that’s never been the practice in the Hindu communities I’ve been part of.
So yes, I believe that if I were to cover my hair in these ways, that would be cultural appropriation. I’d be doing something because it looked cool and made me feel special rather than because it was a religious calling and I’d be cheapening the behavior of women who do cover for religious reasons.
Another thing that I realized a while back is that all these restrictive religions have a lot of rules. Rules for dress, but also for food, speech, behavior, and most of those rules written hundreds of years ago in an entirely different society.
There is a huge temptation to join a religion where the rules of behavior are super important. Why? Because I feel like if I have rules to follow that are specific and really clear, then if I just follow those rules I’ll be okay. It’s so easy to slide into a comfort zone where you’re not thinking or questioning or striving for moksha, but rather doing what you’re supposed to be doing and thinking that’s all you have to do. Obey the rules, get into heaven, end of story.
I don’t believe that, but there’s a part of me that wants to. Because it’s easier. It doesn’t require any thought.
I chose a religion that requires me to challenge myself every day and to be always thinking and aware (Actually, it’s more like Hinduism chose me, but you know what I mean). This is not to say that other religions aren’t about thinking and questioning and awareness, I just know for me that if I had a restrictive set of rules to follow that I would fixate on doing that and not progress beyond it!
So I don’t cover my hair, but man, I’m jealous sometimes of those gorgeous hijabs!