Of Cabbages and Kings

October 29, 2006

Of veils, shrouds and emancipation

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 4:55 pm

A classmate suggested that I watch a debate on burkhas and women that was aired on NDTV an hour back. Barkha Dutt was moderating the discussion – you can read her comments, titled Behind the Veil, here.

The Veil is a a pretty complex issue, fodder for several debates and spanning several controversies. Freedom of religion, invidual  freedoms, personal choice, feminism, mullticulturism and so on.

There’s been a lot of furore about how Jack Straw said that Muslim women must not wear the veil. Here’s the BBC report on what Jack Straw said, and the Guardian report on what that led to. Jack Straw’s remarks may have been harmless enough coming from a layperson, but are a little disturbing given the context – Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant at a West Yorkshire school, was suspended for refusing to give up the veil. UK and the other western countries are steeped in terrorism-rhetoric and Islamophobia. And to refuse Islam the right to express itself, in this context, doesn’t seem entirely wise. I don’t know very much about Mr. Straw and his politics though so let’s let that part of it alone.

I have been at these discussions before – the right of a religious group to preserve its ways and identity v. the rights of women within the group to dress as they please. Is either desirable – to tell a woman that she should wear a veil, or to tell a women she shouldn’t wear a veil. Aren’t both, equally, an intrusive use of the person of a woman to fight a political battle?

Barkha Dutt pointed out, during the debate, that it isn’t only muslim women that wear the veil. Several Hindu women, in places like Rajasthan, are also compelled to wear it. The rationale for the veil, whichever religion or tradition imposes it, seems to be ‘it  is for your own good – so you won’t be raped’. Well, the blank noise project has been working at annihilating this myth – sexual harassment has nothing to do with the way you dress, statistics have proved it. So that’s a whole load of rubbish. But there are some women who enjoy the veil – the anonymity and security of it – how can we ask that they give it up?

Oh and Shabana Azmi recently said that Islam does not compel women to cover their faces, and that’s set of another chain of explosive reactions. What I gathered from the debate though was that the Quran prescribes a dress code for both men and women, and the dress code for men of course is conveniently forgotten. The Shabana-bashers are all skirting around these little details and insisting that Shabana has no right to comment on the Quran. Of course she has the right to comment – why do all these people find it so terribly difficult to remember that in our country, we have a little thing called Freedom of Speech.

In concluding this very convoluted little tirade, I shall say that I honestly find it difficult to understand people sometimes. Why do all the burkha-wearers insist that burkhas must be worn and why do all the burkha-rejecters insist that it musn’t be worn. Do we have no imagination? No capacity to understand why someone would want to behave differently from ourselves?


1 Comment »

  1. […] Read more: here […]

    Pingback by of veils, shrouds and emancipation :: Newstack — December 7, 2006 @ 9:49 am

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