A couple of weeks ago, I had written in this column about how Bahrain gave me the space to be as Indian as I wanted to be and even take a ringside journalistic seat of the kingdom’s evolving history, wearing a saree.
Last week, of course, social media in Bahrain was awash with heated debate about a woman customer being denied entry into an Asian restaurant lounge allegedly because she was wearing a hijab. Inevitably there were weird counter-arguments and multiple versions of what actually happened – such as the FAQ, ‘Why was a lady thus dressed wanting to go to the lounge area where beverages were being served?’ And, that is to miss the woods for the tree, because, of course, who are we to misappropriate cultural values and thrust them on others?
The moment you decide that a way of dressing does not suit a leisure activity – it was just an evening out at a restaurant that wore its ‘smart casual’ vibe on its sleeve, for heaven’s sake – you are assuming powers far beyond what you are capable of handling.
The sad thing is that this is no isolated instance. Coming out of the woodwork are other discriminatory rules that are being arbitrarily enforced in beaches and malls and private clubs in the kingdom.
A Bahraini friend says his daughter, an award-winning start-up company founder, who wore stylish head-turbans, was denied entry to a private beach where she was organising a client’s wedding. The same beach allegedly turns away nationals regularly for not coming in ‘appropriate beachwear’.
I do think we owe our host country the courtesy of respecting local cultural boundaries even if they are unspoken.
Some years ago, I attended a yoga class series where one lady student always chose to wear the barest minimum while she learnt to stretch in all directions. As a mixed class, it set a very embarrassing vibe for the rest of us who came from Bahraini and Asian cultures where we instinctively believed in a different public dress code.
Finally, the instructor gently asked the student to wear yoga pants and tee as a ‘uniform’ – I wonder if the request would have been interpreted as encroaching on the lady’s cultural rights and gone viral on social media if it took place today?
Look around you. In Gudaibiya or Adliya, one can see home-printed posters advertising shared accommodation or the creepy-sounding ‘bed space’ with inevitable riders about nationality or even region.
The moment we start making excuses and explaining away these attitudes – ‘Well, it is easier to adjust to a person from similar background/diet choices/religion’ we are narrowing not just our minds but hearts as well. If one is so concerned about the unfamiliar, why travel across the world and burrow into a ghetto that is just like home?
Time for a reset of our attitudes – let us introspect and instead of just gossiping and dismissing these recent incidents, perhaps we can collectively bring about meaningful change and strengthen Bahrain’s beautiful inclusivity.
Ramadan Kareem, everybody!