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A young Muslim woman in Kerala has recently petitioned the Courts, asking for protection from fundamentalist elements who are forcing her to adopt purdah. One must applaud this young woman for her courage – this is a society where all kinds of people think they have the authority to dictate what women must or must not wear. While the HC has come to her rescue, there will be many who think that she is only asking for trouble.
To some, jeans are ‘Western’ and indecent; to others, headscarfs are a symbol of ‘difference’ and therefore not allowed. To still others, as in this case, headscarfs are a symbol of religion and must be worn. What is common to all these enforcers, regardless of the backgrounds they belong to, is a feeling that women must be controlled. Still others will justify these on the grounds of ‘respecting the wishes of elders’.
Why is is that we never hear of the ‘trouble’ with allowing young men to wear Western clothes? It is assumed that trousers and shirts are ‘normal’ for men, whether Indian or Western. Women, on the other hand, must uphold the symbols of their cultures or religion. All the furore one hears over women wearing the hijab or burkha – why is it that this is never an issue for men? Simply because most men, even from Arab countries, don’t feel obliged to wear traditional dress once they are out of their countries. I bet the fundamentalists in this case don’t pay much heed to what young Muslim men in Kerala are wearing – when it comes to women though, they want to have their say.
Underlying it is the fear that when women become ‘too independent’, they will start thinking for themselves. You can’t sell them like cattle – they may even marry someone of their choice from outside the community, GASP! Fundamentalists often couch this desire under other pretexts such as, ‘women are the honour of the community,’ but if women are that honoured, how about letting them choose for themselves how they’d like to dress, work, live?
The desire to control women’s clothing is part of the mentality that treats women as the property of a community, however couched this may be in the language of affection or dignity.
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