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Burqa Bans–Is Bindi Next? January 28, 2010

Posted by Gomathi Reddy in Personal, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20th January, 2010

Sexual equality is a much debated topic elsewhere in the world and never debated in India – It only makes for good content for humor in vernacular press, bordering on being slapstick.  I feel sorry for the male administrators and politicians who have little understanding of a woman’s societal needs, to begin enacting laws on the so-called-right-choices for women.

Take for instance, the recent furore over a bill in France about making the burqa illegal.  The burqa is considered to be oppressive of women. President Nicolas Sarkozy commented that the veils are a sign of women’s imprisonment and oppression. Women face being fined £700 for wearing a burqa in France.  Later this month, MPs will vote on whether it should be defined as illegal for people to cover their faces in public.  If the bill becomes law, Islamic face veils such as the burqa and the niqab will be banned, in France.  France incidentally is home to Europe’s biggest Islamic population. This has kicked off much debate in the rest of Europe, especially UK, where there is a large Islamic population, who will want to have a say in this.

Isn’t it a woman’s right to wear what she is comfortable in? Isn’t it a matter of her choice? In a civilized society, do bans on women’s clothing have a place?

In support of the burqa, I wonder why it is a non-issue if people can wear hoods and capes and not invite legislation.  Why is it okay to ogle at a skirt up the bottom, or a micro mini or a low-cut swim suit, or a mid-rib exposing skimpy blouse on a saree, or simply filling up your poster space with Kareena Kapoor preening her size zero, and not invite legislation – Will such a legislation be termed male oppression?

Ban on any form of women’s clothing does not protect the women – In fact how can a ban on burqa, supposedly free a “repressed” woman?  Is clothing the only expression of a woman?  I think, it is easier for a muslim woman to go out in public, if she wears a burqa and get to live her life as a normal woman.  By banning the burqa in France, who knows, more muslim women may be forced to stay under wraps. Did anyone bother to ask the woman wearing the burqa, how she feels about wearing or not wearing it?  It is obvious that these women too understand the need to reveal and identify themselves for security checks and the like.  So what is all the fuss about?

And for those who argue that the burqa is becoming a veiled symbol of terror and extremism – Let’s get practical – Terror comes in all forms, shapes and sizes and many patterns of male designer clothes as well – Pulling the burqa down is no solution to the woman or the safety of the society at large.

While hiding the face does hinder integration and opportunities, it is for the women to come out and say so.  After all clothing is a question of personal choice – And it is best to leave it like that.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bindi falls next in line, for bans.



1. revathy - March 31, 2010

I hopped in from ur Indiblogger review…
ur blog is definitely lot more feministic than mine :)..
Now abt the topic,
U won’t believe that we were talking about the same issue in the indian context in class today…And I was for banning the burqa 🙂
here is my take,
While its true that banning won’t be the ultimate solution, it might provide them with the opportunity to see the world without their mobile jail.. We gotta start somewhere right…

Gomathi Reddy - March 31, 2010

Hi…thank you for your comments. Frankly, I think the burqa is such a sensuous thing to be in. You have a chance to see everyone, without batting an eyelid 😉 I just hope, I haven’t made any anti-Islamic statement. But, I personally think, women’s clothes must reflect heir own choices, and it is not for the men to take a call on. So, what if women are comfortable wearing this – who are we to say, yes, or no to it? Its best to leave personal choices at that. And frankly, in France, where all this started, a very small percentage of Muslim women go around with the veil. So, the ban is not really about the burqa – it is more a political statement against Islam. Why take refuge under a woman’s dress code, for passing a political message ? Now, I begin to wonder, who is under the veil – the men or the women?

2. Vasu - April 9, 2010

Hi Gomathi,
I promised a detailed comment on this, and it turned out to be a blog by itself. Its an interesting topics for a debate, and you have articulated your points well
Here are my large two cents:
On the topic of allowing the women to have the freedom to choose: its a bit tricky doubt the women have a true choice, in most circumstances:
If it has been drilled and brainwashed to you (by men) for all your life, and all your mom’s life that you have to wear a burqa to protect your dignity; If the men in the house either directly force you to wear a burqa, or proclaim to be liberal, but frown on you showing your face; if the men in your house are truly liberal, but the community, or mohalla, or social society you are a part of looks down upon you.
Tell me where is the real choice that the woman is making?

I would be open to hearing the perspective of women, Muslims and may be Muslim women on this, but in every religion, cult, creed or sect, if things have been instilled on your brain and drilled down for centuries, you don’t have too much of a choice but to follow whether you like it or not.

Let us also try and understand France as a country first. France’s view of secularism and religious tolerance is the polar opposite of India’s. Every other “secular” country in the world falls somewhere in between these two.
In India, you are free to practice your religion openly, and be demonstrative, while in France, you keep that to your house, and out in the public place there is no open demonstration of religion.
So in India, as a Hindu I may have to put up with the mosque waking me up at wee hours, or if I am a non Hindu, I have to put up with a Ganesha Chathruthi procession that can get crazy. If I am agnostic or atheistic, I have to put up with them all! In France, there is a very strong clamping down of loud prayers, religious processions, religious symbols perceived as oppressive such as the burqa etc.
Both attitudes have their merits and demerits, but interestingly we have had much more bloodshed due to religion. Perhaps, it’s all simmering under the surface in France and will erupt one day, we never can tell.
Just as we are the way they are, the French are the way they are, and there can be no changing that!

Another very important aspect to understand about France in particular is that they strongly believe that if you are in France, you have to live life the French way – openly secular, speaking French, following local customs, drinking wine, the whole jazz of whatever it means to be French. And I have observed that they typically have low tolerance for anybody who tries to be different. It not, in that sense quite like India, where we openly embrace everybody with their culture. I mean, nowhere does the Parsi cultures flourish as much as it does in India, just to state an example.

So, let’s leave France aside, and I would probably not agree with a burqa ban in India. Because, by nature, we let everyone be the way they are and practice our religion. So technically if you ban the burqa, you may have to ban the pagdi, the ashes and vermillions brahmins have on the forehead, and the bindi etc etc. but that said, i would really like to understand how many Muslim women actually wear the burqa because it is potentially sensuous, or stylish, or they absolutely love wearing it by their own free will.


Gomathi Reddy - April 10, 2010

Thank you for dropping by Vasu, and of course for sharing your thoughts.

There can be no comparison between India and the rest of the world, in so many ways – more so in terms of our political tolerances – This is true, from both sides of the table. But in my opinion, this is more a political statement against Islam by France, and has nothing to do with the Burqa itself, considering that the number of muslim women, in France, going around in Burqas is negligible.

And most women’s clothing in all parts of the globe, is an “on-demand” thing that has evolved over centuries. Then comes the next patriarchal head, who doesn’t fancy something that his woman is wearing, and it evolves, or gets discarded. So, while it is interesting to believe that women “should wear” what they like, I believe they wear what is wired into their system over a period of time and what they begin to believe is “their choice.” My only concern is why can’t they have it their way at least in this century – why tether us more and more, when we are just beginning to take control ? Whey can’t you just allow women to learn to convert these tethers to their own reins ?

3. Vasu - April 11, 2010

There are two aspects to this debats:

1.Religious tolerance / secularism
2 Feminism

With regards to religious tolerance, we may say suggest that France is acting against Islam, but their track record at religious harmony and lack of violent clashes is far better than most countries, including India. Also, those in France, or India, or any non Islamic country in the world can point out to the kind of barbaric treatment of minorities under the Sharia law in many Arab states.

With regards to a feminity view, I may have to give you the benefit of the doubt and accept your point partially. Because I would never know what it feels like to be a Muslim woman, with or without a burqa. And your point that at least, let the women make the choice now is strong. But its also worth pointing out that France and European countries have ben at the forefront of liberalism, and feminist equality, and I am pretty sure many women politicians backed the moves. Whether we accept it or not, their logic is that we are trying to re address the balance and liberating the woman under the burqa, at least in our country

Like I said, it may not be the appropriate thing to do in India, and I find it silly that some ultra hard core right wing groups created issues on them. Also, a much bigger issue is how women are treated in Aarab states under Sharia law. I am pretty sure they do not have a choice but to wear one, and I am pretty sure it is not Allah’s will, but the will of patriarchal MCPs.


4. Gomathi Reddy - April 11, 2010

Hey Vasu,

Nice thoughts. But here go my thoughts for you to add your two cents to it – Europe, by and large, from time immemorial is an intolerant continent, when it comes to religions. So, what is religious toleration, technically?

Religious toleration is more about permitting others’ to follow their religious beliefs and practices, even if it disagrees with one’s own. Religions toleration by the State is more a privilege than a right. This should not be confused with religious liberty. And it is accepted that religious tolerance MAY go with some level of religious discrimination by the State.

France, somewhere in 2001, under their President Jacques Chirac signed a bill which prevented small religions and faiths to exercise their right to propagate and recruit new followers. The French National Assembly did debate this topic for many years before passing the bill. The idea was that the law will scare certain religions and sects from brain washing people. These sects were considered, in the eyes of the French State, dangerous, and hence it was the Government’s duty to protect their own citizens, from such “dangerous influences.” The law was passed in the presence of 30 deputies, in a National assembly that was supposed to house 600 members! So much for democracy! Most researchers, legal experts and sociologists agree that if scientific knowledge can be followed instead of the “Anti sect” lobby, then such draconian laws will not be passed in France – This was way back in 2001 and I am not too surprised by how the public or the government would like to take the Burqa issue. It would also be pertinent to note that many European countries are intolerant of Hindus and Muslims. This is a fact, though we Indians, skirt such issues. Europeans despite being liberal and advocates of feminist equality, “tag” woman from other sects or religions, by their religion rather than their by their gender. So suddenly, the frailities of women need to be protected by “their own men” and do not come under the purview of the common civil law. Even in secular India, the Sharia or Muslim law takes precedence for Muslims, rather than the Indian civil law.

But, in support of India and Hinduism, we have been truly secular from time immemorial, unlike other western nations. I think true acceptance of other people and their faiths happens when you are a secure individual and a culturally secure society. India is a culturally secure society. No matter how many current Right Wing politicians dent its surface, we will go by the RigVeda which says, “Ekam Sath Viprah Bahudha Vadanti” which roughly translates to “The truth is One, but sages call it by different Names.”

There can be no better display of being a progressive and secular nation, as Independent India is, despite the ironical fact that we were divided on the lines of religion – a British influence, again! 🙂 and we chose to remain secular. No other country can match our tolerance levels – political, religious or anything in between.

But this post was all about Women (immaterial of their religion and sect) and their right to live their day-to-day lives at their own comfort levels – Religious Tolerance or otherwise is more a man thing. 🙂



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