Abandon veil Pratibha Patil tells Hindu women
Pratibha Patil may have had a non-controversial political career, but now she has mired herself in a controversy even before she has become President! All she said was that the purdah (veil) system amongst Hindu women in some parts of Northern India originated during Mughal rule, to protect local women from Mughal invaders and now that India is a free country women should abandon the veil and get educated. The Muslim community in particular have objected to her statement…saying that this is an historical untruth. And now Patil does not deserve to be President! Apparently the purdah system was brought in by invaders before the Mughals arrived in India, by the Arabs and Turks.
Some historians believe that it is a medieval Hindu practice. Thats nonsense as there is far too much evidence for just the opposite. Hindu women in ancient and medieval times barely covered their bodies, leave alone their faces! Even today in many rural areas women reveal a great deal of their bodies.
The origin of the purdah is not relevant anyway. The point is that the purdah system exists only in parts of north India today, not in the west, south or the east. Even if some ‘medieval’ practices such as these did exist in these parts, it is clear that time diluted them…except in north India. Why? Obviously it is north India which bore the brunt of the attacks of various invaders throughout history and it is an indisputable fact that during war and foreign rule, women are often raped and kidnapped. That is why the system did not vanish in parts of north india, in fact it has become ingrained in some communities. Women are kept cloistered and denied an education.
Certainly, in the north-eastern parts of India and say Kerala, which were areas far far away from the invading armies, the status of women continued to improve. So really, it is a historical fact that the invading armies of the Turks, Arabs, the Mughals and the Victorian values the British brought in had something to do with the purdah system in north India.
But I am talking of Hindu women ofcourse…because our religious texts do not mention that women should be covered. If Islam asks women to wear veils, its a completely different matter, a religious matter which no one should interfere in.
But Patil has not asked Muslim women to abandon the veil. She is talking to Hindu women, so whats wrong in that? And even if she is historically inaccurate about the origin of the purdah system, what does it matter really?
Pratibha Patil believes in womens’ empowerment, in womens’ education and she feels the purdah system hampers the status of women and stops them from getting educated. Well, this is also true. Education levels amongst women who follow the purdah are very low indeed. That is what Muslim groups objected to I think. They felt that Patil was insulting Muslims by saying that the purdah was a backward practice.
Well, in Hinduism it is. You cannot deny it. Perhaps its not as evil as Sati is. Or dowry is. But still, the purdah system is a backward practice of Hindu society. Note, I am not saying Hinduism, because the purdah is not related to religion amongst Hindus. I don’t see why we can’t tell our own Hindu women to abandon the veil!!
Where Islam is concerned, the veil may not be a backward practice. Hundreds of veiled women in the Islamic world are empowered and educated. However I do feel that women in the Christian world are more empowered and educated…actually this is a fact. I certainly believe in womens education and empowerment. If women can become educated, drive, work outside the home, play sports and they can do it while wearing a hijab or even a veil, so be it.
But my personal opinion is that just as women who go around in sexy revealing clothes are reminding themselves that they are sex symbols, so are women who are completely veiled. By veiling yourself from head to toe you are telling yourself: I am a sex symbol which needs to be hidden from the greedy eyes of men. And from what I have read in newspapers and magazines (articles by Muslim scholars) Islam does not ask women to cover themselves from head to toe, the religion does not demand that the whole face be covered. Islam simply asks men and women to dress modestly – thats what I have read. But again, I will be the last person to judge any woman who wears a veil because of religious reasons. I believe in complete freedom of religion. Sikh men should wear the turban if they feel their religion demands it, just as Muslim women should wear the hijab or veil if they feel their religion demands it. As long as it not hurting anybody I don’t see why not. And please, no one has any right to tell Pratibha Patil not to urge women to drop their purdah – because the purdah has no diktat from Hinduism.
However I am not an expert on these things…I am simply a woman who wants women to take an equal place with men today. And if this means that the purdah system needs to be thrown in the dustbin, yes, throw it away.