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To Veil Or Not To Veil: Haryana Women’s Decision Reminds Us Why Choice Matters

Posted: October 24, 2016
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Call it a veil, a ‘ghunghat’ or the hijab, a harmless piece of cloth which a woman should be able to use or not use by choice, without affecting anyone, apparently evokes a lot of tension it should rather not.

On a lazy Sunday morning, incidentally, I came across two news items, one of brave women in a village in northern Haryana taking a pledge to not cover their face with the ghunghat or veil and other of some Muslim women not allowed inside a French restaurant because of the hijab.

The cause of the women in Haryana – a seemingly easy cause to achieve also invokes the wrath of certain people around them. When some men of the village have come out saying that the purdah or ghunghat is a mark of modesty and ahem…respect to men, one realizes why a mere face cover is so difficult to give up. The teacher who started the campaign rightfully argues to ask the men to go about their daily tasks with their face covered just for a day!

Just for the sake of argument, if women are expected to be in a ghunghat, are they relieved of tasks and chores which would be so cumbersome to do with something continuously blocking one’s sight? Definitely not. These women run the house as well as help on the fields.

Unfortunately, in such cases, men demand so much for the sake of their ‘respect’ and ‘pride’ that the plight of the women is only foreign to them.

Is the evil of the veil community specific? No.

Women with caste-no-barrier in the Haryana village, Hindu and Muslim, face the brunt of something which is only to do with gender; urging one to think that the goals of feminists are still a far cry.

At the same time, a restaurant in Paris refused to serve women in a hijab. This had something to do with the underlying current of Burkini tensions in France and the fact that he thought ‘All Muslims are terrorists’. Incidents relating to the hijab are commonplace in France. Keeping aside the debate on the authenticity of religious sentiments, just the fact that women bear the brunt of something which is perceived as their choice is very unfortunate.

Be it due to religious allegiance or modesty or years of culture, certain women choose a certain kind of dressing. A choice to don the veil should be equally respected as the choice to give one up. It is such an irony that we live in a world wherein women are first made uncomfortable about their bodies and draped to avoid ‘evil eyes’. And when they adopt that wholeheartedly, they get penalized for it.

Be it to remove the ghunghat or wear the hijab, three cheers to all the women who choose to stand by what they believe in.

Top image via BBC youtube video

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4 Comments


  1. In any society certain practices will be allowed and certain others will not. Thus is Saudi Arabia all women have a dress code to follow and in European countries they do not. In still other countries rules have changed from no dress code to strict dress code and vice-versa. This is based on broad common consensus or laws of the land. Some people will also be bestowed the authority(by common consensus/law) to then enforce conformity and non conformity will be punished with sanctions/punishments. For any practise to be changed, large groups who have gathered power will have to challenge the authority/enforcement agents until they can overcome/overpower them. Until such a time ordinary individuals and small groups of individuals will tend to conform. It is important here to remember that women’s dress code has historically, largely been a tool for patriarchy to exert control over women (dubiously viewed as modesty)according to their wish/will both while tightening and relaxing of the same. Most often it is the patriarchy (in countries both with or without dress code specifically for women) that has decided the code and women have largely conformed. Yet individually and as groups based on religious, activist, cultural and legalist bases, there has been change and reform challenging the currently followed norms/practises and authority since time immemorial. These changes may be viewed as progressive, regressive. patriarchal, feminist, humanist etc in different times of history strictly based on context of world view at that time. It is important to understand that more broadly for both men and women, before concepts of human rights were proposed and popularised- people followed the norms set down by authority both blindly and obediently, without ever questioning their reasoning. However as women gain some footing in the hierarchy of a society, they will be seen more actively participating in decisions regarding such things like veiling or unveiling. They will start to view them specifically from the point of view of their own experience and understanding of its use as a tool by the dominant group (patriarchs)to control and subjugate them. If they feel it is a tool that suppresses them -they will protest, challenge or thwart the authority of this group as part of a more broader plan to challenge/over throw their authority and thus be liberated from the control of the dominant group.

    • Rummana Abid

      Oh true that patriarchy in its strongest form has decided and ruled over women…and modesty is dubious for sure. It’s centuries of brainwashing here. But the point here is that for now, the women believe in it. And to give it up should be their choice…

  2. Rumanna sorry that I’m pursuing this argument further but I want to clarify my point a little more. Like you say women believe in it and so they should make the choice- but by that logic women themselves seem to have believed in sati and child marriage in those times and chose it for themselves and their own kith and kin too. Women themselves also now seem to believe that to show skin & be sexy to promote oneself or a product is liberating and a choice they make by or for themselves. Being subordinate to men due to so called divinely ordained or biologically innate inequalities was also a commonly held belief that often women chose to believe themselves for all these centuries until the last few decades. It is thus very important to analyse the underlying cause for these beliefs- which is that dominant groups with authority (be they economical, patriarchal, political, religious) will force their own belief system and agenda in an attempt to convince and control larger groups of unsuspecting, vulnerable individuals. Society slowly gets indoctrinated to have faith in these beliefs and submit to their authority of their own free will (seemingly) since the tendency is for weaker to submit to the more powerful. This means that beliefs are not independently formed in isolation but are formed largely due to pressures(economic, political and social) by larger and more powerful forces at play. Subordinate groups ( be it slaves, untouchables, women) have had to start righting the wrongs by questioning first their own strongly held beliefs and expose or reject the ones that don’t give them the right to control the terms of their engagements with others and society. Then and only then will be have some chance of equality and fairness in both values and practises and we will truly be making our own choices.

    • Rummana Abid

      Absolutely Sonia! Choices which are regressing and not equal are all due to enforcement due to authority. And just like patriarchy, religion is a big big authority. Well can argue that ‘man’ made religion. In the specific case of Muslims, a lot of rules are throat ed down saying its the rule of the book. Women covering themselves appropriately being one of them. Now, if they choose to oppose it they have to do it by choice. And that choice is a slow process. Till before globalization, most of the world stayed where they belonged to and hence not exposed to newer better ideas. Now people are. However back to choice, that choice is important. If it was regression to cover them in the heat of the desert to save them from men’s prying eyes it is also regression to force them to give it up again due to someone else’s blind belief….

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