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Abandon veil Pratibha Patil tells Hindu women

June 19, 2007

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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2007 11:52 am

    >yes as u correctly described… purdah system was started after the Persian/Mongol invasions where a lot of women were raped, or adopted ‘johar’ to save their honor. and that is the reason why this practice is more predominant in north-western India (esp Rajastan and Gujurat). although I dislike the system of Ghonghat/Pardah, i sincerely feel that it should be the decision of the person wearing it… she has freedom to wear however and whatever… the decision to cover the head, face, or toe should be based on what makes her feel comfortable and like a woman.

  2. June 19, 2007 4:22 pm

    good post Nita….as Ankur pointed it shd be a personal choice. I know a few families where the daughters-in-law are expected to close their faces but simply hate it.
    The main observation is that dressing style shd not come in the way of enhancing relationships…the veil defenitely puts a women in a circle which they cannot step out of. Infact even talking without inhibitions with the father-in-law and brothers-in-law are rare.

  3. June 20, 2007 1:35 pm

    Well written Nita… and linking your post to our blog 🙂

  4. Sudhir Jatar permalink
    June 20, 2007 8:32 pm

    The comment by Pratibha Patil about ‘veil’ has a wider significance because she is a presidential candidate. It is not her view on ‘veil’ that matters but what it shows her to be.
    The selection of Pratibha Patil as UPA candidate for Presidential election shows the degeneration of the Indian polity. This episode has brought out the worst in ‘regional tokenism and gender symbolism’ (It’s not about her, Shoba De, IE, 20 Jun. 07).
    Sonia Gandhi’s ‘arithmetic’ has worked somewhat like this: Pratibha Patil is a Maharashtrian, so the Shiv Sena and NCP are likely to be on her side. She is married to a Shekhawat and actually a far relation of the Vice President, so that would divide the Thakur vote. The last time Shekhawat weaned away a good 57 votes of the opposition in the vice presidential election. Then as a woman, many women from both sides of the divide might vote for her.
    Of course, she is a Nehru Gandhi acolyte. That is her only weakness during the actual voting but her forte both for getting nominated and later as the President.
    This nomination has brought out the precarious governance of the UPA with Nehru-Gandhi authority on one side and the Leftist extra-constitutional power on the other. The rest of the UPA partners could not care less because power matters more. The Congress found another Patil who is more of a Nehru-Gandhi loyalist with no personality of her own (at least Shivraj wore outstanding clothes!). So, everyone in the UPA is happy. So are the Leftists!
    Merit does not figure in the selection of a presidential nominee. National interest comes last, nay it is nowhere to be seen. Fate has an uncanny way of catching up with these selfish ‘patriots’ because this whole game might well turn out to be an exercise in naiveté.

  5. Shyam Sharma permalink
    June 28, 2007 5:19 pm


    Shrimati Indira Gandhi was the first Women Prime Minister of India, but she behaved like as if she was the Iron man of India. The victory in 1971 Pakistan war was a historic moment in her life. She had taken our country to a global level. She had also made a huge contribution in Nuclear Power, as a result of which we are also a Nuclear Power in the world.

    Shrimati Sonia Gandhi sacrificed the post of Prime Minister and set a huge example of her love towards our country. She also looks and behaves very similar to Indira Gandhi. When I see her on television I think that as if Shrimati Indira Gandhi is standing in front of me. She had made an historic decision by nominating Shrimati Pratibha Patil for the post of President of India. Although our country is Male Dominated she had set her mark by getting nominated for the post of President and this proves that Women in India are now a strong force to deal with.

    After Sixty years of Independence a Woman leader is going to become the President of our country which is a beginning of a Revolution. Since she had born in Maharashtra which is the birth place of Shivaji and she got married in Rajasthan which is the birth place of Maharanapratap. Therefore she possesses all the qualities of these leaders and she is taking their pride to Delhi.

    Shrimati Pratibha Patil had born on 19th December 1934 in Jalgaon. She is a Taurean and her Nakshatra is Rohini. From Moon to fifth house Mars is situated which shows that she is very intelligent. Since Ketu is situated in her third house she is very daring in taking decisions. This can be seen from the fact that after marriage she refused to keep the surname of her husband and kept her own surname ‘Patil’ which was a very big thing in that time. In today’s world women can inspire from Shrimati Pratibha Patil and make their own identity after marriage also.

    Saturn is situated in her tenth house which is providing her success in every walk of life. Coincidentally her Nineth and Tenth house lord is also Saturn. According to Parashar rule it is a very big Rajyog and hence she can definitely become the President of India.

    In the coming time it is very necessary for us to wake the Women Power in our country to save our country from Terrorism and other Illegal Activities.
    With God’s grace we have to get rid of all the Devil power which is stopping our country to become the most powerful nation of the world. During the Pakistan war Shrimati Indira Gandhi had made an historic moment. Since 1971 war nobody has created an impact like Indiraji as she had done in her time. Prime Minister like Atal Bihari Vajpayee was also not able to cross the border line of Pakistan at the time of Kargil War. As a result of which we had to face a very serious loss. If we would had Indira Gandhi at that time instead of Atal Bihari Vajpayee we would had cross their border and given them a beating of a life time.

    Lately, but Sonia Gandhi has awakened the Women Power in India. In the coming future 33% Women reservation bill have to be pass and this will happen in the present Loksabha till 2008. Our country is going through a revolution of Women Power and we will soon be observing an era which is totally Women Dominated. Now the time has come in which Women should be equally respected like Men, because according to my calculation Women are the future of our Country.

    Shrimati Sonia Gandhiji you should move forward towards development of our country because the whole nation is with you. Although you come from a Royal family you behave like a common woman. Looking at the stars of Pratibha Patil she is definitely going to become the President of our country Shrimati Sonia gandhiji has done a very good job by nominating her name for the post of President and it will be very beneficial for our country.

    – Pt. Shyam Sharma
    Cell: 9833847174

  6. June 29, 2007 10:52 am

    Great post, Nita.

  7. October 5, 2007 1:38 pm

    Pratibha Patil is just as hypocritical as any other politician
    If the veil is so restrictive for her, shouldn’t that pallu over her head get the same treatment? What is that for? What is the need to cover her head and parts of her face?
    If she felt compelled to talk about women’s progress, shouldn’t she have touched on equitable opportunities and the freedom of choice? She could have talked about education, she could have recommended healthcare. Instead she talks of the veil!
    “This will ensure real respect for women” indeed!

  8. ashwin permalink
    October 16, 2010 4:46 am

    This is pretty ridiculous but veil in Hinduism is different from that of Islamic veil.

    I am of South Indian origin [ Karnataka] and Women do veil themselves with the saree’s pallu but this is more common among the older generation my grandmothers veil themselves but the veil dose not cover the face! Our texts solely support women to be veiled in front of the elders and other men that only covers the head of the women not the face.

    Mentioned in the Mahavir Charitra Act 2 Page 71 that

    When Purshuram comes, Rama tells his wife Sita that “He is our elder, please lower your gaze, and put on the veil. “

    The Rig Veda Book no. 8 Hymn no. 33 V. no. 19

    “When Brahma has made you a woman, you should lower your gaze and should not look up. You should put your feet together and you should not reveal what the garment and the VEIL CONCEAL”

    You will find many examples of such practice during Gupta period aswell.

    • Amit permalink
      May 25, 2012 9:33 am

      Get your sanskrit correct then read Rig veda you will get right message, Veda never discriminates. All prejudice are human misconception of veda.

  9. Ravi Sharma permalink
    April 26, 2011 4:36 pm

    The Hindu Veil – ghoonghat is used in a number of ways. Its not just tradition. In the deserts its used to keep sand off the face. Women that travel in groups or alone veil to conceal identity from fueding tribe members. Women can be reconised by their jewles and tribal markings so they conceal this for protection. Evil eye and beutiful women conceal from jealous eyes. respect for elders esp males. To keep their dignity and have barrier for protection. The veil is easy to remove or pull bakc not like the muslim veil.

    Rajastan it is common for women to use the veil to protect from dust storms and the blowing sands. it keeps the face protected from the bright sun rays as well.


  10. August 18, 2011 7:18 pm

    I was looking for the clue where from veil came to India as there is no mention of veil in Hinduism ……. Indeed it is from Islam.

  11. January 20, 2012 5:32 am

    Great article and well done. Thanks for sharing the historical aspects of this.

  12. Amit permalink
    May 25, 2012 9:31 am

    Ghoonghat, Pallu etc are non hindu and no scriptures talk about this, though some publishers have change wordings to suit these issues. During Mughul and British rule females were abducted and abused thats the main reason why ghoonghat was introducesd.

    But now india is indepedant, Hindu ladies should leave this practise as those days are gone.

    Another evidence is just look at the traditional head jewelleries we have, with veil they will be hidden, it is not stupid to hide a deocration. Even acient statues of goddess do hot have their head covered. These evidence are enough.

    Talking about dignity how much dignity do hindu men have that women are forced to practise stupid practise like ghoonghat. Men should first clean their shit before pointing fingures at women. Why force women to have their face, men should get their attidutes right and there will be no problem.

    I am hindu but i get really ashmed of such blind practise being done by hindus. We all hindu must be proud of our religion and join hand together to discard such rubbish from our very scientific and practical religion.


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