The Burqa Issue

It is the most Islamophobic among the far-right in India who have consistently demanded the ban on triple talaq and the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code, who have been vocal about doing away with Sharia law. But the ones who should be making these demands in the first place, the ones who should have been at the forefront of the movement, have never done so. They are liberal, not blinded by religion or at times not even religious, they subscribe to leftist ideology and believe in human rights, freedom of speech, women’s liberty, equality, truth and compassion – but they are all quiet, they are yet to utter a word. Muslim women, by the very fact of their sex, are not allowed to go to colleges and universities, are often married off young and are forced to cover themselves in the burqa. For the crime of being born female they are systematically disenfranchised from equal rights regarding all things like marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

So who will fight for the independence of these women? The far-right has been vocally against the burqa. It will be quite natural to take that as evidence that they are truly sympathetic to the cause of Muslim women. But truth be told, it is due to no sympathy on their part but simply the demands of their own political gains that motivate the far-right to remain alert about faults on the part of Muslims. Muslims are not modern, they contribute in no way to the betterment of society, they imprison women behind the veil, they are not fit to be citizens of India, they are capable of only committing bad deeds, violence and bloodshed are endemic to them, their chief problems lie in their religion, in their religious texts and laws – these are what the far-right wants to highlight. However, they rarely choose to point out facts like how the religious laws of Hindus and other non-Islamic creeds used to be no less problematic, like for instance how the Manu Samhita has next to nothing when it comes to rights due to women. And that most modern laws were made by cancelling those aforementioned religious laws and patching together various things premised upon the principles of equality, as a response to decades of activism demanding equal rights for women. The far- right had always been in favour of preserving the religious laws. It was the liberals, the ones who believed in the demands for equality for women, who had fought hard against them. Wasn’t it the fanatical right-wing factions who had been the most miffed with Raja Ram Mohan Roy for speaking against the practice of sati or with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar for having argued in favour of widow remarriage. Today the same right-wing is trying to achieve something akin to what Vidyasagar had done. But they are doing this not to reform their own religion but someone else’s. I don’t believe that in order to reform age-old religious traditions or ensure the development of a backward community only people of said community must come forward and no one else. It’s general human responsibility to try and work towards the betterment of all societies and classes. But if the ploy is to only sing the praises of one’s own religion and social formations, ignore its faults in favour of highlighting the problems and issues in other faiths and societies – that is the occupation of a slanderer, not a reformer.

I fight for the adoption of the Uniform Civil Code without having pledged allegiance to any one group or community or political party, simply as a feminist and advocate of human rights. The Hindu right-wing too is a proponent of the Civil Code and there are obvious differences between the motivations of the two points of view. I wish for Muslims to become secular and enlightened, and move forward towards establishing a modern, equal society. The motivation of the Hindu fanatics is not very clear to me. Like for instance I am not a supporter of killing Muslims for eating or trading in beef, which is clearly something the Hindu fanatics is perfectly fine with. My position is always against any kind of religious fanaticism, even the Hindu kind. But does that mean if the Hindu fanatics support the Uniform Civil Code, even with their own ulterior nefarious motives, I should immediately withdraw my support regarding the legislation? Of course not! Just because my mortal enemy admits the sun rises in the east must I say the opposite! That the sun in fact rises from the west! Obviously not! I had once asked a friend why they were not supporting the cause of the Uniform Civil Code despite being so progressive. The friend had admitted that it was because the BJP supports the Code. Just because the BJP wants the Uniform Civil Code they don’t want it! I do not feel he is really progressive.

Any talk about a ban on the burqa makes people go into shock. Fourteen nations from across the world who are at the forefront of adhering to human rights have banned the burqa – either in certain designated areas or everywhere, either partially or completely – Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Latvia, Norway. In most cases the issue has been regarding allowing someone to keep their faces covered in public. Many people these days don’t feel comfortable when they see people moving around in their vicinity with their faces covered. Recently Sri Lanka has banned the burqa too, to ensure that it does not happen again that a terrorist is loose with their identity and their bombs hidden underneath a burqa and the police have no wind of it.

The other day in Bangladesh four goons dressed in burqas approached the young madrassa student Nusrat, doused her in kerosene and set her on fire. Those men burnt her alive because she had dared to make a police complaint against the principal of her madrassa who sexually abused her.

A suicide bomber is walking around wearing a burqa and we are sitting complacently beside them taking them to be innocent women – the days of such stupidity are over. A wide array of people wear the burqa – 1. Girls brainwashed by religion into believing they will go to hell if they don’t wear the burqa; 2. Girls forced by their families into doing so; 3. Suicide bombers; 4. Escaped convicts; 5. Criminals on the run with bounty on their heads; 6. Thieves; 7. Dacoits and 8. Murderers.

The burqa needs to be banned across the globe. Once that is done women will be able to move around with the dignity of human beings, without having to carry around a mobile prison at all times as punishment for having been born as female, to no longer have to live as faceless zombies. Can there be any better news for women? The women who claim they like wearing the burqa or that it is part of their rights do so only because they have been indoctrinated into believing so.

Back in 2010 an old article of mine on the burqa issue had been reprinted in a journal in Karnataka, that too without my knowledge. It had sparked riots in two cities. Obviously it was the men who had been rioting even though the issue at hand was womenswear. It’s usually men who decide what women should wear. If the burqa is indeed such a blessing why do men not show interest in donning it? That women too have sexual desires, that they too can make advances towards a man, these things are proven facts. We have heard of women getting attracted to other men and plotting to kill their husbands as well. So if women are expected to keep themselves covered from head to toe so they don’t end up stoking a man’s sexual desires, then men too have to don the burqa to ensure they don’t similarly incite women’s desires. But other than thieves, goons, murderers and terrorists no man will wear the burqa, because they feel it will damage their masculinity, like how sarees or bangles do.

Sarees, bangles, burqas, lipstick, kohl – these are women’s things. When a man uses women’s things, or does things that are usually expected of women like cooking, cleaning, childcare and suchlike, it jeopardises his rank and standing. On the other hand women slip into men’s clothes with ease, they do the same difficult or risky jobs as men, and it only adds to their standing. Isn’t this picture enough to make it clear to us how women are not regarded as human beings in the strictest sense as men are, they are usually regarded as lesser humans. Society has only made technological advancements but it has hardly progressed in its outlook at all.

The burqa is a symbol of insult to women, all of us know this and yet we are not doing anything to rectify this. To be honest, more than how degrading it is for women it is even more so for men. Burqas prove irrevocably that men are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses. They are helpless, weak and their libidos override their personalities. Let women say, ‘You cannot control your sexual excitement, that’s your problem not mine. You cannot cover me up because you have a problem. I am not your private property that you will decide for me what I should wear, how, where I should go, how far. You solve your own problems, why should I be expected to bear the brunt of them! I have my desires as well but I have never demanded you keep your face and body covered because of that. I will wear kohl if I wish to and if my dark gaze is a problem for you then don’t glance at me! If your eyes stray regardless and if your manhood causes you too much hardship then hide your eyes behind a thick blindfold. There will be no better solution than that. You don’t have to witness something that excites you. That way you will live and so will I!’

Some are saying that if the burqa is banned in India then the ghoonghat, the veil or headscarf prevalent among Hindus and other non-Muslims, needs to be banned too. I say let it! Women’s heads, faces and hair have to covered so that no one other than their husbands can see them, because wives are the private properties of their husbands – such dangerous beliefs are still so prevalent among people in the twenty-first century. Till the day women continue to don the burqa or the ghoonghat, they will continue to be regarded as sexual objects, as slaves dedicated to men.


  1. says

    Fourteen nations from across the world who are at the forefront of adhering to human rights have banned the burqa – either in certain designated areas or everywhere, either partially or completely – Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Latvia, Norway.

    Latvia didn’t ban burqas because of caring for human rights. The true reason why Latvia banned burqas was xenophobia. “A terrorist can hide weapons under a burqa” was only a handy excuse for Latvian nationalists who knew that they cannot loudly talk about their hatred toward foreigners and their different fashion preferences.

  2. Bruce says

    Well said! I agree completely.
    Let me just add that on beaches in Europe, women are able to expose their bodies very far, and yet they are not assaulted. This shows that lustful attack is not driven by biology. So it is the culture of men who attack that is the problem. The training and life experience that many men get in conservative communities is what weakens their power to be civil the way almost every single person in Europe is civil. It is not race, but culture including conservative religious ideas. I think this blog essay made many good points, including this point. But I wanted to highlight it by considering this further example.
    All over the world, all cultures would be better improved if they could throw off the old ideas and instead think more from a basis of equality between people.

  3. Bruce says

    Women who are brainwashed or influenced by their culture to wear veils and burkas are victims of that culture, even if they honestly believe it is their own wish. The culture makes them accept the premise that women are responsible for men’s moral self-restraint.
    What do such cultural premises imply? They claim men can’t restrain themselves, yet men don’t need to wear a burka out of their own modesty. Yet gay men exist in all cultures. So the right-wing religious cultural premise is that men should feel free to expose themselves to other men, including gay men, even though men, including gay men, cannot be expected to restrain themselves. Thus, right-wing men in such cultural contexts implicitly are inviting gay men to lust after them and assault them out of lust for their manliness or something.
    Certainly, in such cultures, it is common for homophobia to cause insane claims such as that there are no such gay men there. But it is statistically inconceivable that this could be realistic. Thus, the observed claims and actions of men in these religious right-wing cultures makes it clear that those cultures are inconsistent, illogical, and thus indefensible. It is NOT just a case of two different viewpoints being equally respectable. The view of the bigots is weak and their “logic” fails. There is a rational basis to conclude that this aspect of certain cultures is inappropriate. This is another reason why women who say they chose to wear the burqa or burka are speaking out of brainwashing by their culture. This supports the validity of Taslima’s analysis.

  4. Meer says

    Very good points, infact Burqa is something which is not mandatory. Person with opposite sex should know to respect each other and try to lower their gaze, well that’s what religion talks about. Well matter of fact, beautifully described for women rights but are the men matured enough? Are all men educated? Can Men stop attacking on a female for the sexual pleasure, we still hear girls getting raped and has been happening across the Globe. Well not talking on behalf of Burqa but just a question, what safety measures has govt proved for women with zero rapes and full safety of women? Well from religious perspective its just one such measure cover your head or burqas, again if one doesn’t want to follow its totally upto them.

    Speaking about Women right, all above points are great and can be debated or thought about but are the Men ready for change and matured enough to handle it? Can we literally have a women walking late night in few cities of India and will she be safe (weather or not she is in burqa or not)?

    Don’t highlight the issue about dress code (any religion), its more like the mentality of Men that you may want to focus on, bring in a change in minds of Men so that you have security for women. Well if you bring in the change in mentality of men, I don’t think you have to fight for the rights of women, they will obliviously get it by default.

  5. says

    Women who are brainwashed or influenced by their culture to wear veils and burkas are victims of that culture, even if they honestly believe it is their own wish.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this question. “Brainwashed by culture” is tricky. What about Western women who wear sky high heels? It could be argued that they are harming their own bodies with this fashion choice. Aren’t they also brainwashed by their culture? Banning some fashion choice with the justification that “a woman wants this just because she is brainwashed by her culture” seems arbitrary. We ban some fashion choices but accept other ones.

    On one hand, I wholly support every person’s right to choose what clothes they want to wear. Personally, I’m female assigned at birth, but I have chosen to wear male clothes. I want this freedom for people to pick their own fashion preferences, because my own attire differs from social norms. And it’s immensely frustrating to bump into society’s restrictions. For example, I would prefer to wear male swimwear. Unfortunately, I’m not legally allowed to do so, because I haven’t had a top surgery (and therefore I’m legally obliged to cover up my chest). The end result is that in summers I’m forced to go to nudist beaches, because those are the only places where I can swim without having any problems with the legally enforced dress code. I can imagine that Muslim women who believe that they want to wear a veil feel just as bad whenever some country orders them to take off their veils.

    On the other hand, burqas and veils just feel like gender discrimination for me. While travelling, I once shared a hotel room with a Muslim woman who wore a hijab. I informed her that I consider myself agender and that I’m also sexually attracted to women. Nonetheless, she didn’t mind removing her clothes in my presence. Apparently, her rules said that she must keep her veil on while being around people who are male assigned at birth. I just don’t like a “fashion rule,” which says that a person must dress differently while being with male strangers compared to how she dresses while being with female strangers.

    I believe that I don’t have a right to tell other people how they ought to dress. Fashion preferences should be each person’s free individual choice. Thus I, as a European, shouldn’t be telling Muslim women what clothes they are allowed to wear. It’s not up to me to decide for them. Simultaneously, I feel that Muslim veils are discriminatory. I don’t exactly like them.

    Then there’s also a problem with “free individual choice.” It’s pretty damn obvious that society pressures every one of us to wear whatever clothes are socially accepted.

  6. says

    By the way, my own experience is that what clothes a woman wears doesn’t impact how likely she is to experience sexual harassment. Me dressing as a guy doesn’t stop male strangers from groping my butt on the street. I intentionally make my own appearance as masculine as possible without taking hormones, and some men don’t seem to care. If there’s a butt nearby that can be identified as belonging to a person who exhibits at least some feminine characteristics, then for some men that’s fair game for groping.

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