Purdeh Mein Rehne Do: A Ban on Burqa in India?

The latest uproar in the political sphere is ‘banning the Burqa’. Shiv Sena demands the government to act quickly and ban the Burqa in India as they have done so in Sri Lanka, saying ‘after Ravana’s Lanka, let’s ban Burqa in Ram’s Ayodhaya’. Hopefully when he gains his composure, he realizes that in global politics, decisions are not made on a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ basis, but they are slightly more thought out and nuanced than that. As citizens of this ‘great’ republic, we at least hope they are.

Before you get your saffron gamchas in a bunch, let’s demystify the Burqa for you.

What is a Burqa?

The face coverings that Muslim women opt to wear. There are several types of face coverings that Muslim women choose to wear, including the hijab, niqab, and Burqa.

Why do Muslim women wear the Burqa?

Although no religious text explicitly requires women to cover their heads or bodies, the practice which has been pruned and honed over centuries is now automatic and ingrained.

In the same way Indian women used to (and still continue to in some parts of India) wear the ‘ghoonghat’, married women who practice orthodox Judaism must cover their heads with a tichel, or the bonnets and veils that Christian women adorn, the burqa is worn by Islamic women. The purpose is the same: to not incite excitement or desire in a man, to seem humble and pious, and to refrain the world from perceiving them as “prostitutes or adulterers”. 

The argument against Burqa

Burqa is currently banned in 14 countries, namely: Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Netherlands, China, Morocco and Sri Lanka (as of 29 April 2019). Sri Lanka imposed the ban on Burqa after the Easter Sunday attacks, which were carried out by followers of ISIS.

A common argument made against Burqas, and in defense of national security states that they ‘interfere with CCTV monitoring’. However, police have admitted that Burqas do not interfere with CCTV monitoring any more than wearing hoodies do. The next logical step would be, if security truly is a concern, in the aftermath of NZ attacks, Sri Lanka Attacks, and the countless lives we have lost in skirmishes in conflict zones, to ban hoodies pan India too. Ban ghoonghats, hats, caps and anything that obscures faces from the CCTV cameras installed for our protection. 

If, however, you refuse to take that step, acknowledge that this demand to ban Burqas for a vague sense of security reeks of Islamophobia. 

Source: Tales of the veils

Another argument against the Burqa is that it is restrictive to a woman, coerced by religious law and curtails a Muslim woman’s right to her body. Wearing a Burqa is mandatory in certain countries, and highly ‘encouraged’ in others. In places where the choice is removed from the equation, it is counterintuitive to a ‘just’ and equal society for its female citizens. The punishment for not abiding by the “dress code” range from public flogging, to fines. 

The Argument for Women’s Right: Wear Whatever the Hell You Want and Stop Politicising Our Bodies

Kind of self-explanatory. It is widely believed that human rights are inherent to all human beings alike, and include the right to choose your religion and the right to your own body. A ban on Burqas offends both.  

This year, with the increase in number of states and countries globally, which have banned early stage abortions, we have already impinged on women’s right to their bodies. With the ban on Burqa we continue to politicise a woman’s body and her right to do with it as she pleases, including what she chooses to wear, for reasons she deems valid.  

Religious freedom is one of the tenants of a secular society. Although ‘Islam’ does not expressly require Muslim women to wear a Burqa, many have chosen to follow the religious practice. Controlling the way, a certain sect of people practices their faith feels a lot like majoritarianism in full exercise. From lynching for suspected ‘cow’ consumption, ‘the Sangh and allies’ now also want to dictate what Muslims in India must look like?  

“The very decision of declaring what a woman is allowed to wear is hypocritical and antithetical to the aim of protecting human rights”

-Dissenting judges in the European Court of Human Rights case where the law banning Burqas in France was upheld in 2014.

Terrorism and the Burqa

With international terror groups who have publicly subscribed to and professed the teachings of Islam, there is an increasing sense of anxiety concerning the religion globally. Ideally ‘blaming’ someone will bring us the temporary peace we seek, lest we have to confront our own prejudices and face the consequences of our actions. Punishing all muslim women, for the crimes of some extremists hardly seems fair. 

When governments in power and politicians in trusted positions, make ignorant statements like demanding ban on Burqas, as if it would resolve our communal problems, they achieve the following:

  1. Allow the zealots and over-eager members of religious extremist groups to use this as an excuse to harass women who wear Burqas, thereby promoting home grown terror against these women; and
  2. Sow the seeds of distrust within communities that have so far co-existed peacefully.
Source: Amit Sharma

The Burqa, it has been argued, may be misused by men, worn as a disguise to commit crimes and escape without being detected. We challenge the notion with this simple question: must women, who are simply trying to practice their freedom of religion peacefully, suffer because criminals may misuse their attire?

It should be pointed out that, even if the Easter Sunday attacks were used as the ripe opportunity to ban Burqas in Sri Lanka, none of the suspected suicide bombers were in fact wearing one. Of the 9 bombers, only 1 was female and the 8 male suicide bombers were seen wearing pants and shirts in CCTV footages. The burqa did not have a role to play in these terror attacks.

Which brings us to the question: Does terrorism have a uniform? Ajmal Kasab, the perpetrator of the 26/11 Mumbai Massacre was seen in CCTV footages, wearing jeans, t-shirt and hoodie. Nalini Murugan, who assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi wore a saree on the day the crime was committed. Do we dare regulate sarees and call jeans and pants dangerous to national security? 

As a society, we fail to sometimes notice the obvious. When ‘terror’ is promoted in the name of Islam, their first victims are inevitably Muslim women, who suffer inwardly. All extreme Muslim regimes are known to have restricted women’s clothing, limited women’s access to education, and perpetrated sexual abuse and violence against these women.

With calls to further politicise and legally instruct their attire and public conduct, we are targeting these women ‘outwardly’. The suggestion in itself is racist, divisive and exclusionary. But have you ever thought about that? No, you only think about yourself.

One thought on “Purdeh Mein Rehne Do: A Ban on Burqa in India?

  1. The choice discourse sometimes feels like a double edged sword. There are women who consider domestic violence as a fact of life and ‘choose’ to be married to the abusive partner, and even get angry if another woman points out to her that to be beaten up by one’s spouse is oppression. There were women who ‘chose’ to perform sati convinced of the merits of the act. To dissuade them from it was seen by them as interfering in their faith.
    Doesn’t the face cover (in the burqa and the nikab) stop a woman from breathing freely? Eating freely in public? How well can she see through that mesh? How is this a mark of women’s emancipation? And why one rule for women and another for men?
    And if it is also a mark of women’s “modesty,” who gains the most from such a sexist concept that expects only women to cover their face? Patriarchy.
    And also, FYI, three women with full face covers/burqus were seen on CCTV buying white garments that usually Buddhist women wear to temples. These garments were recovered later from a terrorist safe house. But not the women. They suspect that this was possibly a plan to make Wesak poya (a day of religious significance to Buddhists) another blood bath like the Easter bombings. Perhaps, the large number of swords found in mosques and other areas all over the country were to be used on that day.

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