July 09, 2007

Three Burqa Stories

On the 27th of June, BBC reported that a male Bollywood singer had apologised for wearing a burqa while visiting the famous Chishti shrine in Ajmer:

Reshammiya created a stir at the shrine on Tuesday night when some devotees spotted him in a burqa. They took it up with the prayer attendants.

I wonder what these very same devotees - oh so vigilant about other people's dresses rather then their own devotions - would have made of the Imam of the Islamabad Red Mosque donning a burqa to escape the "authorities" currently besieging the mosque. Hmmmm.... the burqa as a gender-denoting garment or as the last resort of the hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded? And here I was thinking that most people wear it for "modesty". Never before has so much confusion surrounded a piece of clothing. Bikinis included.

On the Third World View, a debate about the burqa is about to start. Third World View talks about the comments made by a radio talk show host comparing burqa-wearing women to Nazis. (Yes, Nazis. I'm waiting for Jewish groups to take this fool to task for trivialising the Holocaust.) I've made my stance clear there, and before further controversy erupts I'll explain it here just a bit further. I'm neither pro/anti-burqa. I'm pro a woman's freedom to choose what she wants to wear. If women CHOOSE to wear the burqa, then Savaga, Straw and Rushdie should just suck it up and remain mum (watch this space for more rants on Rushdie). If women do NOT choose to wear the burqa or even a hijab, then all our Islamists should just suck it up and remain mum (without exploding).

Those who want women's rights to be equal to that of men's should remember one thing: a burqa is rarely the cause and mostly the consequence of discrimination against women. Remove the causes and the consequence will follow. If then, the burqa or the hijab is retained by liberated women as a sign of their identities or idiosyncrasies, then who are we to protest? Until that day, anyone (like me) who argues for a woman's right to wear a burqa will be treated as though we are speaking for the patriarchal order in the idiom of women's rights.


Anthony said...

'If the burqa or the hijab is retained by liberated women as a sign of their identities or idiosyncrasies, then who are we to protest?'

The ethics of burqa/hijab as an identitiy badge or political statement is not so clear cut. And Rushdie is not altogether wrong on this.


'I have nothing to say to the sisters who wear the hijab because of their faith. But those of you who are making a political statement against cultural imperialism, please think about your sisters back in Desh who don’t have the choice that you have.'

asif said...

I'm in almost complete agreement with your sentiments. The greater thrust of this has to be on making sure that women back in the 'Desh have choice above everything else. I have taken up this issue with some hijab-wearing friends out here (I count ONE that I can actually talk to about such matters), and sad to say their responses have not been as supportive of their Deshi sisters as I'd have liked. They are so embroiled in making the point about identity and assimilation (not necessarily cultural imperialism) that they don't see the far more important issue of coercion.

My beef with Rushdie is hardly about this. He's neither here nor there with his support for the Deshi women by making Orientalist critiques of Muslims and their rituals. As I said, watch the space:).

That's a great quote by the way. For a minute there I thought it was Rushdie speaking. Then I re-read the "sisters" part and I knew I had to check out the entry. Thank Amar for an ncredible picture by the way. In one simple shot, he managed to capture everything that is currently wrong with Muslims today.

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