A growing trend to don the burqa in India?
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 pressure by society. 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?