Skip to content

A growing trend to don the burqa in India?

April 16, 2007

A television channel reported that there is a growing trend amongst Muslims in India to don the burqa. The only “research” quoted was from Kerala. The other conclusions were drawn from interviews with people in other cities in India.

I found several bits of information on this subject on the net, and one was a few years old. It says that the study was conducted by the University of Calicut, and the survey “that the number of Muslim women who were purdah in the five districts of the Malabar region increased from 3.5 per cent in 1990 to 32.5 per cent in 2000.” Another article is about five months old and it confirmed this trend. It quotes a survey which says that the percentage of burqa-clad women has increased from 10 to 30 percent in the recent past in Kerala. This inspite of the fact that Muslim clerics themselves are not unanimous on the practice of Muslim women covering the whole body.

The news channel, Headlines Today, also talked to Muslims in other cities and they too believed that more and more women were wearing the burqa today. The reasons given were several. They ranged from deep religiosity, personal choice to a diktat by parents who insist that if the girl wants to pursue higher education, the burqa was the condition. I found nothing wrong with either of these reasons. If it is a choice between wearing the burqa and sitting at home, I am sure that many young women will prefer the former… if that is indeed the reason.

In any case, I feel that one should freely wear a symbol of one’s religion if one wants to. If someone told me not to wear the bindi, I know what I would say to them. In the face of opposition I might be tempted to wear it all the more!

Some feel that this could be another reason for the rise in the wearing of the burqa.

This article for example says that more and more Muslim women in Kerala “cutting across class and age barriers” are taking to the burqa and one of the reasons could be because of “the move by several Western countries to ban religious symbols….it is as if it is being felt that Islam itself is under threat…”

In India ofcourse there is no problem or social pressure to discard the burqa even though Muslims constitute the minority here. In the west however, there is a huge tide of public opinion against the burqa…and this attitude could have led Muslims to become more firm about wearing it. Apparently it has influenced Indian Muslims too. Also, a lot of people in Kerala work in the middle east, and this means a middle east influence.

However, according to this TV channel this trend is visible all over India. I too see more burqa clad women in Mumbai than ever before, but I always felt that this was perhaps because I was noticing it more. But academics in Delhi confirmed this trend.

Well, whatever the causes, I believe in freedom of dress. Whether for religious or personal reasons. Dressing is a personal thing. If anyone wants to wear a spagetti top, so be it. If a woman wants to be in purdah, so be it.

Having said that, I think anything that is forced is wrong. So how do we know that a veil forced or not forced? Is a woman who does not wear veil considered less religious or pious than someone who does? That is the question to ask. If she is, then there is some element of pressure and brainwashing by society. And if a woman does not wear a short skirt or a bikini in a liberal country, would she be considered a frump? If yes, then there is some sort of pressureΒ  by society.Β  And is a woman in a saree in a conservative culture considered more virtuous or proper? If she is, then there is pressure on the woman to wear a saree, and it is not true freedom.

In India we tend to accept westerners who wear skimpy clothes, but criticize Indians who do so. I always find that odd, because a woman whose saree reveals more of her than a western style of dress is accepted easily, but not a woman in tight jeans and ‘top’. So it is often simply a way to cling on to one’s own culture and usually women are pressurised to become symbols of the culture.

Yes, it is a trifle disturbing to see the west coming down heavily on the burqa, but equally disturbing are traditional male dominated societies pressurising women to wear traditional dresses to uphold their culture…whether it is the saree…or the burqa.

In college I used to be in jeans almost every day and once a boy commented, Sarees are becoming expensive huh?” I shot back, ‘ And aren’t dhotis available nowadays?” Boys simply don’t understand that they are in western attire all the time. Even in Islam men have a suggested dress code, but I am sure that more Muslim women follow their suggested dress code than men.

As far as safety is concerned, it is not an issue in today’s day and age. More women dressed in sarees are raped in India than those in jeans, mainly because rapists pick those whom they think are “vulnerable”. And yes there are statistics to support this…more women in rural India are raped than those in urban areas. And rural women lead far more traditional lives as compared to urban women. Talking of vulnerability, why, just today there is a reported incident of a 15 year old girl suffering from cancer and admitted into the prestigious Tata Memorial Hospital who has claimed that she was raped by two ward boys when she was under anesthesia. Hospital authorities (as well as her parents) doubt her claim, but I think it probably happened. A neighbor (we have shifted cities since then) once confided in me that when she was admitted to a well known hospital as a sixteen year girl after a motor accident (she had fractured her leg) a ward boy in the hospital crept into her room at night and started to molest her. She started shouting and was thus saved from rape. She said her parents said it was all her imagination, her dream!

Also some parents feel that if their girl wears the traditional dress, there are less chances of her getting involved with a boy. However, anyone can fall in love, and whether the girl elopes or not depends on her relationship with her parents. And if the parents are so worried that the girl has made the wrong choice, well, a wrong choice can happen in an arranged marraige too. The parents should be there for the girl, in case she needs help.

However, if women themselves (and men) want to wear the traditional attire because they believe it is upholding their religion or culture, or because they feel comfortable doing it, whats wrong? They are not harming anyone. Its when traditionalists pressurise just women to either wear a certain type of dress (and men are excused) , that it bugs me. Often, it is the “modern” urban male who demands this of his women folk. Rural and semi urban women and men usually dress traditionally.

(I took these pictures in Mumbai, Pune, and the village women picture has been taken by my husband in Shivpuri, a village near Gwalior, in Madhya Pradesh)

Related Reading: Dress Codes for Temples?

38 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2007 6:02 pm

    Nita – this is a complex issue, with convoluted possibilities to enumerate the reasons for why there may be attempts to revert to traditional dress, or less revealing clothes. I don’t believe that female liberation means that we are now able to dress however we may want. Does this mean we women are now able to stimulate men visually in whatever way we dare or wish to?
    There is a tendency today in Canada, for many young teen-age girls to dress in what I prefer to call “hooker-chic”. At once this is disrespectful not only to the girls themselves, but indicates lack of respect for the males who have to see these girls flaunting themselves in public. Modesty or lack of it is really a matter of mindfulness and respect, in my opinion. There are Christian religions here that have stricter and more modest dress codes for women, but also men – the Amish, Mennonites and Mormons.
    I see no problem in women wearing garb that indicates their religious belief, as long as this does not mean restricting their entree into education and work opportunities, or as long as adopting this kind of clothing is voluntary for the women involved. A reality for many women is the possibility of being abandoned with their children by their mates, and having to support their families largely by themselves. I am sure this may be the case for Muslim as well as other women, and if religious accommmodation to dress code means that women are not given the opportunity to develop skills with which to support children by their own labours, then , in my opinion, this is not a good thing.

  2. April 16, 2007 8:36 pm

    As long as the woman is not forced to wear a burqa I don’t think it is anybody’s business.I am not sure although that most woman who wear burqas wear it because they want to.May be it is the men in the house who force them to wear it. Burqa is not a religious symbol because it is something you see in South Asia and Middle east only.Muslim women elsewhere don’t wear it.

  3. axinia permalink
    April 17, 2007 1:08 pm

    Interesting, NIta! i was just going to write about the western and Indian dress style. So I can start on your blog πŸ™‚
    I believe dressing is not really every one`s business, we dress not only for ourselves, but actually for others (manifesting our value system, taste, feelings, attitude). It is a social thing!

    I like the comment of Suburbanlife saying “At once this is disrespectful not only to the girls themselves, but indicates lack of respect for the males who have to see these girls flaunting themselves in public.” The looks of girls – and older women!! -in the West are terrifying, especially in summer.Poor men!..

    Another thing one should not underestimate is the way our dress influences our behaviour. When I used to dress business-like (trousers and tie), I notice becoming aggressive and overpowering. Finally i rejected this style, and only wear skirts (always below the knee) or long skirts outside the office. My whole dignity comes up and unfolds like a fragrant flower! Interesting enough people find it more beautiful than jeans and mini dress.

    Regarding Indian slyle i can only say that I wrote already an Ode to Sari in my blog πŸ™‚
    My favourite quotation of a famous swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung (1875-1961) on this topic ”It would be a loss to the whole world if the Indian woman should cease to wear her native costume. India is practically the only civilized country where one can see on living models how woman can and should dressβ€œ.

  4. December 11, 2007 5:41 pm

    Orthodox muslims make silly arguments for defending the practice of wearing burqas. They say that burqas are for defense of women from sex maniacs. We must remember that rape cases are more in Pakistan where burqa tradition is widely practiced. Orthodox hindus who force women to wear saree only also make similar silly arguments. They argue that women would be easy targets of rapists if they wear European style costumes. We must remember that rapes often happen in rural India (especially on dalit and BC women). To my best knowledge, no woman wears European style costumes in rural India (except recording dancers). Cinema recording dance programs are arranged in villages occasionally but not often.

  5. December 11, 2007 7:51 pm

    @Proletarian Revolutionary:

    The dress of a woman has nothing to do with rape as you have rightly observed. However we do not know whether more rapes take place in say Pakistan. Statistics are not available. In India rapes are widely under-reported which you can read about here.

  6. ahmed permalink
    February 9, 2008 5:06 pm










  7. Raj permalink
    February 9, 2008 8:37 pm


    I think that the hooligan (if he is a real hooligan) would uncover only the face of the burqa clad woman and then choose his first victim from among the two.

    I did not want to reply to a hypothetical question,but since you requested an answer,I have left this comment.

    And just like you,I feel that the hooligan should be killed if necessary to protect the woman.

    But the choice of wearing a burqa or any other dress should be left to the woman as long as she does not do any harm to her health (and to a lesser extent,comfort) by wearing it.

    If any woman prefers to wear a burqa on her own,she should be allowed to.

    And men,or rather,the hooligans among men who have nasty attitudes towards women should be firmly dealt with.

    P.S.:I am a guy and I have great respect for all religions on earth.

  8. Raj permalink
    February 9, 2008 8:44 pm


    In my last sentence before the post-script,I mentioned hooligans among men.By that term I meant men who indulge in the filthy practice of ‘eve-teasing’,sexual harassment and all other forms of violence towards women.

  9. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 10, 2008 8:55 am


    I chanced upon this thread because of Raj appearing in the sidebar today. Just a couple of points, not specifically related to the burqa but to dress norms in general:

    Most people are conformists in the matter of dress, and will wear whatever the majority around them are wearing; they feel more comfortable merging with the crowds than standing out. What these crowds wear may be ruled by fashion or cultural norm.

    Many people follow the diktats of their religion, or the dress code of their work place or profession. The last two can sometimes get ridiculous (e.g. lawyers wearing black at the peak of summer, medical reps wearing ties (which, when not on the wearer’s neck, are still permanently knotted, and get progressively stained with sweat and grime). The stupidest example is the “Friday casuals” norm that many corporates observe BY MANDATE. How anything can be casual or informal if it is dictated, beats me.

    Some dress ideas spring from imagined circumstances, e.g. the Safari Suit (which my wife irreverently calls a “Baba-Suit”), which first became almost de rigueur with UN Agency, World Bank and assorted international bureaucrat types who, embarking on business trips to Africa, thought they might get into situations where they would have to fend for themselves against ravenous lions; or that sitting at meetings in an air-conditioned office in Nairobi was an adventure in the wilds. Anyway, it was thought to be wise to be prepared for a contingency. From the UN to the boardroom was but a hop and a skip. The good fallout of it was lots of business for dry-cleaners.

    Then there is the type who is easily tyrannised by the fashion czars, whats “in”, what’s “out”, what’s “cool” and what’s “not”. These are similar to the conformists, but in an exclusive sort of way.

    Finally, there are those who make their own fashion statements, either to flout conformist diktats or just in order to “be different”. I guess I am one of these. I often wear a dhoti — almost always to a wedding or a musical soiree, but often to work as well (I have never worked in an organisation that had a dress code; I never would).

    The typically amusing reactions I get are: [1] people who don’t know me presume that I don’t know English (and start speaking in Hindi which, to them, is the only acceptable alternative); [2] they make snide comments about how rustic-chic seems to be “in”; these same people, however, do not find anything wrong if a firang (white-skinned of course) walks in wearing shorts and a sleeveless vest; [3] they assume that I am a Bengali; [4] they assume it is a pre-stitched dhoti (I find this insulting), and ask where it is available and whether it would be available in their little Chintoo’s size;

    In the first three of these situations, I just express my contempt by not saying anything or (in case [1]) by speaking exclusively in Gujarati or Marathi; in case [4] I first mildly express my displeasure at being thus insulted, then I educate them about how to spot a pre-stitched dhoti from a mile off, and finally tell them that I am also insulted by their presumption that I would know where to find the product.

    Having said all that, I do believe that while everyone has the freedom to wear what they please, the freedom must be exercised with some restraint:

    At a place of worship it is important to wear whatever is considered “modest” in that particular culture.

    A bikini (or less) belongs at the beach or at home, not at the workplace.

    While it is OK to disregard (even challenge) dress codes imposed high-handedly by self-appointed authorities, it is good citizenship to respect local sensibilities in public places.

  10. Raj permalink
    February 10, 2008 1:10 pm


    Thanks for your detailed comment.I agree with what you said.

    Personally,I am only concerned about comfort.So I wear only shirts/T-shirts and trousers because I feel comfortable in them.And I cannot stand Chennai’s heat,so I wear only cotton,nothing else.

    But I was forced to wear a tie on some days in some places where I studied and worked.In the heat and humidity of my place,it was like wearing a 10 kilogram diving gear! I used to hate the days when I was forced to wear a tie.

    I agree with the dhoti part.Unfortunately people have a bad attitude to those who wear dhoties.But I speak only in Tamil to anyone,whether he wears a dhoti or a formal suit (which,in the sweltering heat,makes me laugh),except ofcourse when I realise that that person is from a different state (or country),in which case I use English,if the other person is comfortable with it.But if someone speaks in one particular regional language (you know which one),I respond in old Tamil (not even the Chennai version)!

    About dress codes,I was asked to wear a dhoti (without an upper garment) in one place of worship.How that would be classified as “modest”,I do not know.I did not resent it,because if I did,I was welcome to stay away.There was a debate going on about that issue some time back.

    I agree with what you said about wearing a bikini to the workplace,but I never utter even a word about it,for fear of being branded a male chauvinist,which I am not.

  11. February 10, 2008 2:38 pm

    Ahmed, A rapist or goonda cannot blame the victim for his acts. A woman should be allowed to wear what she wants. I think the idea of blaming victims for the aggresssive behavior of criminals is disgusting. Western women are always dressed comfortably and western men do not attack them because of their dress. Women are attacked when they are in particular situations. If any man attacks a woman because she is wearing a skimpy dress then he should see a psychiartrist.

    Raj, yes that is the main point. Women should be free to wear what they want. What they wear has no connection with a man’s lecherous behavior. It is lecherous men who cannot control themselves and touch and attack when they see a woman’s flesh. These men need psychiatric treatment.

    Vivek, after reading your comment I realised that this post is related to another one I wrote on dress codes in temples. Basically I agree with what you say. There is a time and place for every type of dress.
    Sorry to hear about your dhoti experience. I think it has become so unusual that people react that way. More Indian men should wear the dhoti. I think it is a very graceful dress.

  12. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 10, 2008 3:43 pm


    I was not talking about dress code in places of worship, but about dress codes in general. No need at all to be sorry about my dhoti experience. In fact I quite enjoy the opportunities it offers to put people in their place πŸ™‚ . It does amaze me, though, how it is immediately associated with an inability to speak English.

    Yes it IS graceful IF WORN GRACEFULLY. The style in which one leg is exposed from the thigh down, which is how many urban dhoti-wearers today wear it, is what earns it a bad name. It is also, in summer, the most comfortable thing to wear, but not amenable to a lifestyle that involves clambering on and off crowded buses and trains. Also, from ages of experience I can tell you it is pretty expensive to maintain.

    BTW Raj, I assume when you talk about dhotis you are referring to the “veshti” (wraparound). What I mean is the proper tucked-at-the back, passing-between-the-legs style, more common in the South in Karnataka and AP than in Kerala and TN (Rajaji is the only Tamil I can recall offhand who used to wear it the way I mean). Today, other than in Bengal, it is worn by mainly by BJP members and assorted members of the Hindutva brigade. Of course in the classical music field there is a fair number of people — even among the younger ones (including Muslims) who wear it often, though not regularly.

    Incidentally, the two most elegant dhoti-wearers I remember were both non-Hindu, though both had Bengal in their veins — the sitar player Vilayat Khan and the sociologist Andre Beteille.

  13. Raj permalink
    February 10, 2008 9:07 pm


    Yes,I was talking about the veshti style,which is the primary one in TN,Kerala,many parts of AP and South Karnataka.It is the only one I know to wear-really simple to wear but tough to keep it from falling down when worn without a belt πŸ™‚ Infact even on the very,very rare occasions that I wear it,even with a belt,I always wear shorts underneath to avoid any embarassment in front of women,just in case πŸ˜€

    Jokes apart,it can be quite comfortable in the heat but I find it totally impractical.It is impossible to ride a bicycle or a motorcycle (unless you fold it upto your knees) for instance.

    But wearing it had made me realise how impractical sarees and long skirts must be for women! Therefore,I would whole-heartedly support women if they do not want to wear such impractical dresses.


    //…It is lecherous men who cannot control themselves and touch and attack when they see a woman’s flesh. These men need psychiatric treatment.//

    That is 100% true.I agree with you whole-heartedly.Such men should be flogged in public by women.But I really do not know how women would feel if every man begins to wear only tight shorts (and nothing else) to the workplace.Please do not think that I am a male chauvinist,I detest male chauvinism (as much as I detest linguo-nazism!) even if I happen to be a guy myself.

    //…More Indian men should wear the dhoti. I think it is a very graceful dress.//

    This is not fair,Nita! Even though the sari can be the most graceful dress for a woman,I am advocating that women should give up the sari for more practical dresses like trousers and tops.But you are advocating that men should move in the reverse direction.I agree that equality must be enforced,but women should be liberated instead of men being oppressed! πŸ™‚

  14. February 10, 2008 9:38 pm

    Raj, I think I caught you here! The dhoti is more comfortable than the trouser! It’s ideal for our weather. In fact it’s revealing! But that is not the reason I think men would look good in it. πŸ™‚
    Ofcourse it wouldn’t be comfortable for someone who is not used to it!
    My hubby wears shorts all the time, even outside and I know a lot of men in our circle who do so.
    But where is the question of wearing shorts to the workplace arise? Shorts fall under informal dress don’t they? And even if a man does wear them to office, I doubt whether any women will be attracted to him! πŸ™‚ They might in fact run away! πŸ™‚

  15. Raj permalink
    February 10, 2008 10:39 pm


    Okay…okay…I give up 😦 I realise the folly of taking on a woman using words or emotions…you always get the better of us πŸ™‚ I guess that Mother Nature has gifted the planet to her daughters and her poor sons are welcome to stay here as honoured guests as long as their sisters want them πŸ™‚ I shall behave as an honoured guest on our planet Earth and when you no longer need us,I shall gracefully accept it and find a different plane (or a diferent planet) in the universe to exist πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚

  16. February 10, 2008 10:50 pm

    Aren’t you married Raj? Sorry, such a personal question, but cannot resist it!

  17. Raj permalink
    February 10, 2008 10:57 pm


    Don’t worry,it is not a personal question! But I knew this was coming at me like a nuclear tipped missile πŸ™‚ so I will keep you guessing till it drives you crazy…I guess that this is one area where we men are better…controlling our curiosity πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚

  18. February 10, 2008 11:09 pm

    I think I have already guessed Raj. You are a bachelor! πŸ™‚

  19. Raj permalink
    February 10, 2008 11:13 pm


    I am not going to give in so easily! You can believe in your guess if you want to! πŸ™‚

  20. February 11, 2008 1:23 am


    On the two days of sunshine that we call British summer, plenty of men – and women – can be seen wearing shorts to work. Of course they will be tailored shorts and some will even wear them with jackets to make it look quite non-informal! British offices do not enjoy end to end air conditioning so summer clothes can be quite entertaining. Another thing which is similarly anathema to some – including me – is women not wearing tights with skirts in summers.

    But a burqa will be too much, much as you know efforts are on in the UK to accommodate almost too much of other cultures…

  21. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 11, 2008 7:05 am

    @ Raj:

    A belt on a “veshti”? Come on! I thought that was worn only by people who scramble up palms to bring down coconuts or to tap toddy. And not so much for reasons of modesty as for the pragmatic purpose of suspending the sickle — and essential tool of their trade (and also, in Kerala, a useful political statement) πŸ™‚ . Actually, if you apprehend mishaps, you can subtly knot it instead of tucking it over itself at the waist.

    BTW, what is the difference between a “veshti” and a “mundu”? I am culturally literate enough to know that both are different from a “lungi”, but am not so clear about the difference BETWEEN them. It doesn’t help any that most modern South Indians indiscriminately use the word “dhoti”, just as those not to the manner born illiterately call it “lungi”. My own guess is that the mundu is the one that is 2–2.5 metres long and of slightly thick material, and goes around in a single layer, whereas the veshti is at least double the length, thinner material, and folded into half its length before wearing, to make two layers. Please confirm or reject.

    Also what are the conventions about the outer flap being worn to the right or the left? And are they the same between TN and Kerala or different?


    //In fact it’s revealing! //

    It does not HAVE to be. The style (called “kaachaa”)favoured among genteel Maharashtrians until about 40-50 years ago, involved a fanned back tuck on both sides and covered both legs right from the ankle up.

    A slightly inelegant version of the kaachaa is what you see Mr. L K Advani wearing. This style requires a dhoti of somewhat greater breadth and length, especially if the wearer is tall (I am 5′ 8″; Mr. A is taller). And such dhotis are no longer easy to find. The size commonly available is 48 inches wide and less than 3 m. long. OK for men up to 5′ 4″.

  22. February 11, 2008 7:42 am

    Lucky British guys! My husband would love to work in Britain just for the pleasure of wearing shorts! At his previous company it was compulsory to wear ties (Anglo Dutch Company) and in is present one he has to dress very formally although no ties.
    Here when he wears shorts to a movie or something even then some people raise their eyebrows!

  23. February 11, 2008 9:48 am

    😳 When this thread came alive again I realised that I had not responded to several of the earlier comments. Sorry! Won’t give excuses because I know I should have been more careful. I enjoy reading the comments so much and am grateful for all of you for coming here and sharing your thoughts and adding to my perspective. It is absolutely careless on my part not to reply! Actually I made this mistake quite often in the early days…
    Better late than never though.

    Suburban, you captured my thoughts perfectly in your last paragraph. The paramount thing is to empower women, and a dress code should not come in the way.

    Prerna, that is an excellent point you brought out, that the burqa is more cultural than religious!

    thanks for that perspective. The sari is indeed a very beautiful dress but many women find it difficult to say clamber up and down railway platforms and overall it does affect agility. Today the modern woman requires a different type of dress. I know you are not saying that a woman should be compelled to wear traditional clothes, but unfortunately Indian society does put pressure.

  24. February 11, 2008 10:16 am

    This is extremely OT, but I am very partial towards sarees. I just can’t resist sarees (on women, if there was any doubt πŸ˜› ). I don’t expect women to wear it all the time, but when they do…

  25. February 11, 2008 10:25 am

    @Raj: That was mighty spineless… Might I suggest The Selfish Gene as a good starting point for therapy…

    I am just kidding, for all those with raised eyebrows, though I hardly share any of those sentiments with Raj.

  26. Raj permalink
    February 11, 2008 10:46 am


    Belts are worn on veshtis by most people I know.Infact,there are belts that are specially made to be worn with veshtis.Some of them come with pockets to keep wallets,etc.Obviously everyone must have the fear of being embarassed even if they are expert veshti wearers! πŸ˜€

    And actually I am culturally illiterate when it comes to veshtis and mundus.Sorry to disappoint you on this issue.I will try to find out more and tell you.From what little I know,there are different veshtis that are worn either in a single layer or in two layers in Tamil Nadu itself.And the lungi that you mentioned is called “lungi” in Chennai but mainly called “kailie” in other parts of Tamil Nadu.It is not acceptable in formal situations where it is seriously looked down upon.But most men find wearing it to be very comfortable and wear it at home.(I am an exception though)

  27. Raj permalink
    February 11, 2008 11:50 am

    The Depressed Doormat,

    Thanks.Yes,I knew that it was spineless…but this is really too complex a topic to be looked at from a single point of view! πŸ™‚

  28. February 11, 2008 12:04 pm

    @ Nita:

    An MP from Blackburn, now Justice Minister, some days ago asked his constituents not to wear a burqa when they meet with him. He says to understand their grievances and to know them, he needs to know with whom he is speaking. Fair enough, I think. Not for some though.

    Both burqas and hooker-chic (Suburban, is that a real word, because it has great power!) have some things in common:

    * They stand out, in the worst possible way.
    * They both attract attention and prejudice in the worst possible way mainly because we use clothes as a proxy for the wearer’s judgement (which is why men want to wear suits and women want to keep wearing tights even in summers)
    * They both look like oppression – one because it dates back to the pre-modern times and one because it dates to a false idea that women are somehow liberated and can now wear clothes at which men can leer.

    As for the man who commented on a man attacking a woman from amongst two: well, if a man is waiting to attack a woman, nothing will stop him anyway. His ‘order of priority’ is a false dichotomy in this case.

    However in today’s world, I would suggest to him that he should not think himself beyond such “attacks” either.

    Besides, for Muslim men to think that somehow only they care about their women’s welfare is a bit much. For the record, I have rarely seen a woman going out with her husband, boyfriend or brother in the UK dressed in “hooker chic”. All one can say is that men know how men think, so they protect their own female relatives by giving advice on their garb.

  29. Raj permalink
    February 11, 2008 5:51 pm


    Some women think that all men are the same.I am only DELIGHTED with such a view and would even request ALL WOMEN to think in such terms!!! It would only help women to ensure their own safety.As a guy who cares about all women,and not just my female relatives,my only concern is about the safety of every woman.I don’t care about the image of men,not even my own image!

  30. February 11, 2008 5:51 pm

    Shefaly, I wonder if one can equate talking to someone with their face covered to talking to someone on the phone or on the internet? I don’t know, I just thought of this.
    But with this hooker chic business….I would find it difficult to make out who dresses in that hooker chic (I almost said chick!) fashion and one who is doesn’t. In India even if wears slightly tight jeans and short top one can be labelled as that I think.

  31. February 11, 2008 6:00 pm

    Raj, I just posted the above comment and saw yours. I think we posted a comment at the same time. However I did not quite get whose comment you were referring to?

  32. Raj permalink
    February 11, 2008 6:05 pm


    It is quite obvious! The comment above mine.

  33. Raj permalink
    February 11, 2008 6:34 pm


    And I was not referring to anyone in particular.It seems that some women have such views which is good and it would only be better if every woman has such views about men!

    I agree with what Ahmed had said:


    It is in caps only because I copied Ahmed’s comment and pasted it here.

  34. BARBARA permalink
    February 11, 2009 5:08 am

    In the United States the women have a freedom to choose what they can wear. I don not like to be told I can’t wear immodest clothes by these religious fanatics, this is not the Middel East where there is a dress code this the United States of America!!!!

    • henna permalink
      July 28, 2009 8:38 am

      Hi Barbara,

      I am in US these days and I can understand why you are getting so frustated. There is a huge campaingn going on in US from 90’s to make Islmaic dressing acceptable and find more

      followers for it. Well for the second part of my sentence I have no comments right now. But for my first part I would say following are things which would be irritating you and how u can

      overcome them.

      Sense of irritation creeping inside because you cant wear your favourite shorts/sphagetti or Bikini because you find people staring at u and giving “immodest” glance.
      Being trapped in a sense of guilt because Islamic dressing is being highlighted as modest, woman respecting and best of all and so such women would never be molested, eve teased or even

      looked at.
      Feeling a moral pressure on top of ur head.
      And feeling insulted inside because if one is represting “something as modest and best” then other is also represented as “worst”.

      I would say in such situation better accept people wearing such clothes but don’t change your outlook in case u are convinced that ur outlook is best. As they have choice as has u, The thing

      that I feel bad about this campaingn is moral pressure and a sense of guilt. These two feelings can make a woman give up her stand point. Since US has been Westernised society and a single

      religion grp, it gets difficult to accept but that is Globalisation for us and we need to accept other dresses, people everything.

  35. henna permalink
    July 28, 2009 8:23 am

    Nita your blog is too complex to even comment upon.

    What is basically a dress? A piece of cloth to cover urselves. Do we think when there were just basic parts being covered may be 4000 yrs back more women were getting raped then? Or it was so common for men to see women like that, that it was all okay. Even in recent times many tribals in India or Africa were wearing bare minimum. So,was rape prevalent there like a every day affair?

    I believe that noone can say which dress is modest but we have a stereotype which has been built. A full covering, loose dress is called as modest. A man who has 6 packs, or is topless is showing attracting everyone around. Have our minds/brain been brainwashed to feel and experience such emotions. In ancient India may be BC when Chanakya, Ashoka and other names were common, men and women were wearing far less than what they wear today. Sarees of women showed their neck and highlighted their neck bones, length of saree may be till knee or full till foot. Men were mostly topless. So, was society dressing immodestly then.

    don’t we have seterotyped everything, Urvashi Dholakia in backless and Parvati in full Banrasee/Kanjewaram saree. Showing good covered and bad wearing less.

    You also said “choice” is the word, but what is choice? We live in society and society influences us. We don’t understand when choice word is actually a force on us though it neither is physical, emotional nor mental. It is conditioned mental/emotional force different from normal mental/emotional force.

    Burkha may be choice for someone, but what happens when u cover the face? I saw a lot of western/middle eastern women who have started/were wearing burkha with face veiled. They say it is okay, but is it okay for me to talk to them. Face and eyes break the barrier to talk to some person, facial expressions are necessary else personally I would feel I am talking to a wall. They say assume u are talking on telephone/internet.

    Now, I wonder whether a woman is reduced to an inanimate object because as said “face is ur mirror and acts as ur mirror for others” is no more visible. Even in basic communication /personality classes they teach how our different motions/expressions communicate non verbally. One non verbal communication is no more there and verbal communication is without expressions which looks not so human to me.

    Also, is Burkha conditioned or choice, nobody knows, we know Burkha, Hijab,Abaya, Jilbab are Islamic dresses, in India only burkha is common. Western/middle eastern women who are wearing them in America say it is “Modest” , no scares from men but real reason they say is God said us to wear like that.

    So, whatever be anyone’s reason here about Societal pattern on dresses, the burkha and other related dresses are not societal but religious and so they may be a conditioned choice. And if they not a conditioned choice but a Godly connection then also I would request Muslim women to not cover their face as for most of humans on this Earth face is first breaking point of communication.

    Now, coming out of Indian Islamic dress and talking about other Indian dresses. Saree or Sari has evolved into a fashion garment, though I hardly wear it but I make it point to adorn it on festivals, marriages etc. It takes 15 min more for me to wear it so I feel comfortable in trousers and salwar kameej. Also, they are stereotype of everything, Saree which is covered means homely, one who should be respected. Women wearing Saree which has more cuts is seen as less respected. Well, yes that woman will look Sexy, but is looking Sexy/hot bad? Isn’t it a attribute of same woman who can look like docile woman in temple.(again stereotypes and media is very responsible. does modern means wearing Trousers/Jeans/skirts/shorts/bikini? Can’t a woman wearing traditional Ghahra Choli/ sharara/lehgha be modern?

    What is power dressing? Corporate Suits, Trousers, shirts are considered powerful. Can’t a woman in jeans be equally thoughtful. My brain is so much conditioned to see Jeans as casual that whatever I try I feel it as casual. My brain has been slowly conditioned over these yrs by Lewis, Wrangler and other companies which made Jeans look cool, chic and casual.

    What basically is modern? Is it stereotyped or really does Jeans mean it is modern? going by same logic dresses worn in Chankya period by women were modern!!

    This topic is really so complex.

    Henna, I agree that the topic is complex and thank you for contributing your valuable comment. Its great to know that there are thoughtful people like you who see issues as complex because there are many people who cannot see anything but black or white, yes or no. Life is all about the greys and I try my best to get that across, I try my best to see it that way, to look at the various layers of an issue but at times I too can fail. The very fact that you understand the complexity of the issue shows your broad thinking. Thanks again. – Nita

  36. Gopal permalink
    August 13, 2009 2:53 am

    Burqa covers a face, and demeans a person and conceals a person’s identity..
    It is a form of imprisonment, a forcible demeaning of personal expression (all “unattractive” black garment), and unnecessarily restrictive for a woman and her personality, her professional and social life and her sexuality..

    Religious expression must be modernised and become freer of such traditional and archaic concepts like burqa..

    Surely chastity, modesty and purity are more internal things than external

  37. fathima permalink
    November 28, 2011 2:28 pm

    Hi everybody!! as a burqa clad muslim woman,i know where it all comes from…O.K.,what makes people feel that burqa is forced upon muslim women? have you ever heard a burqa clad girl complainig? really?hmm…i dont think so…here a a few reasons why i wear my burqa…
    1) i feel great…coz,dats what my people wear and i confirm to normality..who doesnt want to?
    2)I feel safe and confident about my body and looks..i dont care what people think of my body..i dont want people to think and comment about my legs my hips my back,etc…period.
    3)I am happy to follow my religion,i dont bother you with mine,please dont bother me with yours.
    I can go on and on….people please dont pass comments like Mr.Gopal,burqa is not demeaning,it covers my body,and i dont want to be a display piece for people like you…i am an educated women,i dont work because it is my choice,i chose to give my kids a mother at home ,when their dad can earn and support them,by the way he is an engineer.And ,my husband doesnt PROTECT me in public..he joins me to the market sometimes because i want somebody to hold the bags hunny!!no,he dosnt follow me everywhere,i am free to do what i want to,and NOT WORKING also comes under that..a few more thousands earned by a burqa clad lady, wouldnt hurt in our household,but i chose to stay at home,purely my chioce….. I am from mangalore and we love our burqas!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: