Clarifications on my views about the Burqa

Given the responses I received from my previous post, I feel a detailed clarification explaining my stance and reasoning behind it is due.

First of all, as I do not advocate any ban due to my instinctive gut feelings. I like most humans, feel strong instinctive visceral reactions for a range of things from ugly tattoos to plastic surgeries to the latest Hollywood fashions. But no one in their right mind would advocate any regulations on clothing, lifestyle, or anything else for mere aesthetics or reactions, no matter how strong the reaction is.

By Burqa here I mean the combination of the Burqa + Niqab and not just the Burqa in isolation

History of Indian law and the Greater Good:

Currently, in India, there exist a number of laws (and their application) aimed at social justice where the burden of proof at times lays on the accused not the accuser. Examples of these being the SC/ST atrocity act, Dowry law, Domestic violence laws, etc. Not getting into the legalities of these laws, it is fair to note that the system is rigged against the accused to prove his/her innocence, unlike most other cases. But weighing the pros and cons, considering the state Indian society finds itself in, these laws are generally accepted across the board.

Till now (2021) it is fair to assume that significantly more cases under these laws have been Unreported than the cases where these laws are abused (though it may not always remain so).

Why should the benefit of the doubt be given to the women in case of Dowry/Domestic abuse cases & Scheduled castes/tribes in case of Atrocity-related conflicts? We all know why. I am extending the same argument here.

UCC and Burqa:

Generally in the world, we have accepted that legal polygamy is not an acceptable practice. In India with Muslim personal law, there continues to be legal polygamy for Muslims. But looking at the numbers, the practice is not even followed by a very small fraction of the Muslim population (as opposed to the practice of Burqa which is ubiquitous). Yet most nativists (Hindutvavadis) in India & *true liberals acknowledge the need for a Uniform Civil code. There are multiple valid reasons for the UCC, but one of them certainly is that Muslim personal law creates a feeling of separation among the Muslim community which is bad for a cohesive society. The same argument along with a few others can be made much more convincing against the Burqa than for UCC in my view.

Arguments against the Burqa:

  1. Burqa – as a black overall creates a distinct separation between the Muslim women and society on whole. Here is a fine piece by Jaggi on it. Jaggi in this piece has relied heavily on BR Ambedkar’s scathing remarks about women in Islam in Pakistan and Partition. Some of Ambedkar’s quotes                          “These burka women walking in the streets is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India. Such seclusion cannot but have its deteriorating effects upon the physical constitution of Muslim women….”.“Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment. Being deprived of healthy social life, the process of moral degeneration must and does set in. Being completely secluded from the outer world, they engage their minds in petty family quarrels, with the result that they become narrow and restricted in their outlook.”                                                                                                                                                   It is important to note that BR Ambedkar had similarly scathing criticisms of Hindu practices and the Hindu code bill was directly aimed at addressing those ills. Even though the single Hindu code bill failed to pass in the Indian parliament the content eventually got passed under various laws.
  2. One might argue that wearing a Burqa is a personal choice of an adult woman and denying so is an infringement of her fundamental rights – and that point is certainly not without merit. Once a practice like Burqa is accepted in a society it is automatically imposed on girls as young as five years old. One cannot even begin to imagine the effect that would have on the psyche of a child. A discussion on this topic on BBC Radio: link. I am not supporting something as extreme as Dawkin’s stance that children be raised devoid of indoctrination, but just that we curtail to the extent to which we indoctrinate under the guise of religion.
  3. As in the case of the Atrocity Act or other pro-women laws, it is fair to start with the assumption that women don’t have faculty (especially compared to men) in these societies (Indian in general, Muslim in particular). Therein the question of assumption of personal choice of the woman becomes difficult to justify.
  4. Another issue that is often missed in these discussions is the impact this might have on the Men’s psyche. Jaggi has made the point with reference to the Love Jihad issue so I won’t go into that in detail (read his piece). An example of what some MAN in UP said about it – here
  5. The lack of a visible face, especially in public places hinders equality in interactions. We communicate a lot non verbally (most of it facially). Burqa not only restricts expression for the wearer (it may be down to choice) but also restricts the communicator from gauging the non-verbal communication.
  6. The public security issues which arise from  garments thought often exaggerated in right-wing circles are non-trivial.

The Other side:

Some of the defenses of Burqa  which find some purchase in my mind are:

  1. In the hyper-sexualized and judgemental world with immense peer pressure to Go out – Look good – be sexy, a Burqa might appear as a welcome respite for a certain type of personality.
  2. If the person wearing the Burqa feels closer to Allah due to the act of wearing it, how can the state or society come in between her spiritual fulfillment?

Out of these two, I empathize to an extent with argument 1, yet it doesn’t tip the scale in my mind.

Closing thoughts:

I see the point made by many that such a law is counter-effective to the aim of reform. While I concede this point to a degree, I don’t think it needs to be counter-effective in all cases. The same can be argued for most reforms.

The views I hold here may appear extreme in some respects, but it’s anything but a mere reflexive extension of my gut feeling, it’s an internally reasoned and argued position. I don’t advocate bans, especially in the current state of Indian affairs, but I do rejoice when I hear this happening in Sri Lanka, Denmark, or France.

Post Script: 

My views on the Sabrimala controversy and menstruation taboos are also in concurrence with the Supreme court judgment. Not stating it to engage in monkey balancing, but merely stating it for context. You can find my piece which covers some of these topics here – What is “Brahmanical” in Indian Patriarchy?


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39 thoughts on “Clarifications on my views about the Burqa”

  1. You are excessively deferent, apologetic and needy in your arguments – almost pleading for better sense. If your supposed audience had all these qualities of reasoning in the first place, there would not have been the necessity for such a piece of clothing. Anything that is not mediated by reason can be dismissed without reasoning.

    In the political sphere that animates societies wrt external cultures, changes are not wrought by reasoning of the type you displayed in this article – they are driven by nativism.

    When Denmark proposed the ban – its Justice Ministry said that it is not compatible with the Danish community. The French simply said that it is the antithesis of Laicite. The Sri Lankan minister said that Muslims lived in Sri Lanka for a long time without ever wearing the burqa – and the current trend was a security risk. No mention about the self-confidence of women or their choice or equality or blah-di-blah. Thats it – end of story.

    In the Indian context, you missed the most important argument – it’s antithetical to the practice of Dharma, harmful to the concept of Shakti and a blot to the Divine Devi. No Indian religion (Sramana or Brahmana) has ever put a woman in such sartorial bondage for reasons of sexuality. The native Bharatiya tradition has celebrated feminine sexuality.

    That’s all is there to argue – it is a simple and powerful argument – even the most unlettered villager in any corner of India will instinctively understand it and politically back it.

    1. The argument here is more clarification/ defense of my position (and counter of some criticisms) – as alluded to in the previous post and not a plea or argument for REFORM – which I know will fall on deaf years as u rightly point out.

    2. //No Indian religion (Sramana or Brahmana) has ever put a woman in such sartorial bondage for reasons of sexuality.//

      *cough* white dress *cough*

      1. Just in time!!!……a thrall materialises to flick his whataboutery wand in defence of his Arab masters. Hey you forgot to cough about France burning women at the stake in the 16th century. I am just helping you out. More reasons to remain regressive.

        Wearing white applied equally to widows and widowers. It got formalised during the Gupta Imperial Age. For women, it became a nunnery type seclusion. Again reform was possible because religious practices are not rigid or specifically mandated.

        It was mighty brave of you to compare a older cohort practice to current day bigotry. For your efforts, I award you a Key&Peele skit.

        1. //Hey you forgot to cough about France burning women at the stake in the 16th century.//

          Well Indians were burning widows even in the 20th century..

          //For women, it became a nunnery type seclusion.//

          Forced to wear white, shaved heads, forbidden from any jewellery, forbidden to remarry, or just thrown in the fire. Doesn’t sound like a nun. Sounds like sartorial AND sexual bondage.

          //Again reform was possible because religious practices are not rigid or specifically mandated.//

          1000 year + history without any change. Sure.

          1. I am not sure what your point even is , because UAE is 26 and Saudi is 49 and I find that quite ”ironic” and hilarious, because in my mind, gender inequality there, especially of the sartorial kind is even worse there. (BTW you are quoting HDI not GEI). Besides these types of indices are only good to obfuscate online arguments. All I have done is point out Ugra’s absolutely false claim of ”no Indian religion (Sramana or Brahmana) has ever put a woman in such sartorial bondage for reasons of sexuality”, and false claims he makes very often

          2. 0.501 I 122
            0.536 B 129
            0.547 P 136

            Lines up congruently. But yes good point. Yes, S Asia is shitty for women in general, regardless of religion.

          3. S Qureshi – the comparisons to social ills u made would be valid in 18-19th century. even to an extent early 20th century.
            But many of these customs are outlawed and are in descendency – to almost negligible levels today – though sex selection occurs to a large extent as warlock pointed the trend is positive – and anyways its an outlawed practice with severe penalties and checks.

            Eg: at every sonography we have to sign two or three forms denouncing sex selection (all religions) – that’s the level to which its bombarded in the country

            Whereas by all accounts – Burqa (seen a proxy of conservatism) is on the ascendency – I have literally seen the numbers rise drastically in my short living memory.

          4. @S Querishi

            You aren’t amenable to reason – this is what I warned Gaurav about.

            Every social proposition is statistical. If somebody remarks that the Nordic countries have high emancipation for women – it does not automatically mean that EVERY Nordic woman is oppression free or happy or emancipated. It means that a majority are!

            In the same way, all Bharatiya religions have a very good framework of feminine participation and idolisation. Also specific practices get course-corrected by a feedback loop.

            For your specific laughable grievance, no widow in India today goes around in India wearing white and head shaved because of Hindu rigidity. In your desperation, you are inventing tales. This is feeling so stupid even as I type this.

            The Islamic practice of treating women as sexual-connoisseur-game to be covered is un-Indian. The fact that it is incorrigible to course correction is also un-Indian. This alone constitutes valid grounds for action.

        2. 0.501 I 122
          0.536 B 129
          0.547 P 136

          Lines up congruently. But yes good point. Yes, S Asia is shitty for women in general, regardless of religion.

          Maybe Buddhism is marginally better.

          HDI Gender Inequality
          Rank value Rank.
          71 Sri Lanka 0.380 86

    3. “No Indian religion (Sramana or Brahmana) has ever put a woman in such sartorial bondage for reasons of sexuality. The native Bharatiya tradition has celebrated feminine sexuality.”

      Is Female Infanticide how Bharatiya celebrates women?

      1. Didn’t realize infanticide and sex selective abortion were the same thing.

        It has changed a lot. Keep citing old data. Just like your fellow Birdari Supremacist Radicalislamoapologist friend who does it from public defecation numbers to stuff like this. Also, a ratio of 107 among Muslims is not really normal in the gangetic plain either. Sikhs fare the worst. Is this an Indus cultural phenomena?

        1. Christians are the only religion that fares + on the female foeticide.
          Haryana Punjab fair far worse than rest of India – what r the numbers in Pak Punjab?

          @Thewarlock – arent Muslim numbers statistically significantly better than Hindu/Jains/Sikh on average though ? (5-10/ 1000 in my reading)

          btw the numbers are even starker for men/women under a certain age and above a certain age (if one discounts 50+ year olds & 10 year olds)


            yeah jains do crap in 2011 data as well. probably goes back to property inheritance. regardless, it is a shame.

            Islam does appear to be protective, relative to dharmic faiths, but with the caveat of within the same region. Gangetic Muslims do worse than Hindus in some other regions. This isn’t just a religious phenomena. It goes beyond that.

            I posted a link above showing improvements. Things have changed with the ratio improving a fair bit even within the past decade. On the other hand, at the same time, we see radical islam sweeping places like Kerela with the ISIS recruits coming out of it. Regardless, there is further change needed.

            Broadly, this appears to be a Northern S Asian phenomena, with Islam mitigating some of its effects with the hardline anti abortion at all stance. On one hand, the right to choose is taken away.

            For Pak:

            “Current law permits abortion only to save the woman’s life or, early in pregnancy, to provide “necessary treatment”’

            So in one place a woman is forced by law to have a rapist’s baby. In the other, more female fetuses relative to male ones are aborted. It is quite messy.

  2. Although it has it’s limitations, wouldn’t freedom of expression be a good defence of the burka.

  3. This debate is just another example of shadow-boxing. The basic problem most people who complain about dress code etc have is not the dress code itself but the type of regressive culture it represents. And such people – the most important opinions being from the West – wouldn’t really care much about this regression (orthodox Hindus or non-European Christians or ultra orthodox Jews can be pretty regressive too etc) if Islamicate cultures were more insular, self-absorbed and less interested in violence to respond to stimuli or enforce such clothing rules.

    1. True. If Jihadism were to be divorced from Islam, this wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

      Radical Islam has destroyed the image of Islam. Its alliance with leftists will only make matters worse.

  4. Difference between india and europe in these matters is that our muslims are not immigrants. They are our own cousins who believe different things, and are very much in their own ethnic homeland (we may disagree whether this matters, but i’ll admit that to me it does). The subcon muslim family transitioning to arab ethnicity is a fantasy. The european discourse is tacitly related to immigration. Ours is about freedom of conscience. As distasteful as I find the burqa/niqab combo, as a hindu, it only harms my freedom of conscience if the state were to create negative consequences for my leaving the religion and expressing it sartorially. As a frenchman, where the dominant religion among immigrants is islam, and the muslim community is at most 3 generations deep in the country, I fully understand either curtailing the freedom to dress a certain way/ or reduce immigration specifically from places in which those practices are prevalent. Let the resistant french muslims voice which they prefer

  5. While I admire the writers attempt to make a civilized, albeit unoriginal, argument against the Burqa without going on a full blown nativist diatribe, its pretty useless to make a logical case against what is essentially a religious tradition. Especially for a multi-faith society like India, its nothing but a slippery slope.

    Religion IS indoctrination and unless there is a blanket ban on religion, imposing a “permissible amount of religious indoctrination” on families is not possible. And what makes us so sure that adult Muslim women in India do not wear the Niqab out of their own free will? Do we have any studies? Its simply unfair to make societal arguments for millions of adult individuals and assume the absence of personal choice.

    France and Denmark are unsuitable case studies as the number of native Muslims in India is almost 3 times the combined population of these countries and Muslims are considered immigrants there. The same arguments about security, difficulty in communication etc. have been repeated for years across Europe and are lame justifications for what are otherwise clear attempts to solve the “Muslim problem”

    Its also naïve to assume that banning the Burqa will automatically do Muslim women a great service. There is no attempt to understand the mindset of the women who don the Niqab. If they cant go out covered, they will not go out at all and a Burqa ban will completely shackle them.

    1. //what makes us so sure that adult Muslim women in India do not wear the Niqab out of their own free will?//

      Excellent question!

      What people wear is personal choice, and only in circumstances where their clothing is a hindrance to other people’s rights (e.g. say wearing the mask during a pandemic), that rules on what people can wear are enforceable. And it is all completely context dependent and no thumb rule can work. It is therefore phenomenally mistaken to make the debate about wearing burkas, when the real debate is about something else entirely.

  6. but I do rejoice when I hear this happening in Sri Lanka, Denmark, or France.

    Comparing India to Denmark, w/r/t the burqa, is ridiculous.

    Muslims in Denmark are immigrants, and quite recent immigrants at that. The debate about the burqa in Denmark is really a proxy for a debate about immigration, ethnicity and national identity. Whatever you may say about Muslims in India, they are clearly *native to India*, they’re overwhelmingly the descendants of native converts to India. India is legitimately *their* ancestral homeland in a way that Denmark isn’t the ancestral homeland for its Muslim immigrants.

    1. That comparison between Denmark is not made. Its not a question of native vs foreign in my book – i don’t at all condone banning practices that r foreign.
      In india with eye at social reforms we have banned or outlawed so many native practices. Courts are ruling on if women can enter a particular shrine in total negation of native customs.
      Almost the entire piece is about thought processes which outlawed other bad practices in India, and laws made against the its own principles.
      Its not as if discussions on UCC aren’t going on. I would rather the Burqa be banned than a practice like Polygamy which anyways is not common in the country (and in my eyes less harmful).
      I also would like to add that Burqa is both a symtom of a culture as well as an Active instrument of the same very culture. So preventing the use of an instrument would not be incidentally an attempt to reform but an attempt to mitigate.
      Its also naïve to assume that banning the Burqa will automatically do Muslim women a great service. There is no attempt to understand the mindset of the women who don the Niqab. If they cant go out covered, they will not go out at all and a Burqa ban will completely shackle them.
      Nowhere am I implying that Burqa ban would be a reform. The piece is not a case for reform but a moral and hypothetical argument. I anyways grand that it would be an counterproductive ban to an extent. It’s more a mental gymnastic exercise.

      OTOH Indian Law requires students up to a certain age attend school so not following that can and should anyways be dealt with legally.

      1. well at the end of the day its only religious attire and unless we have any data conclusively proving that Burqa is forced on wearers and injurious to mental/physical health, all arguments against are only saying that “we just dont like this”. Bad practices surely need to be banned but only if there is clear evidence of mind and body being violated like FGM

        You cant allow freedom to practice religion and then dictate how it is practiced. IMO courts have no business stepping in to allow women into prohibited temples.

        Burqa cannot just be distilled away from Islam itself and be banned as a symptom of some regressive subset. French Muslims, even the moderate ones, saw the burqa ban as an attempt to choke Islam and it did nothing to improve their integration into French society and Burqa/Hijab wearing actually increased.

        1. Do courts/laws have rights allowing Dalits in temples ?
          If not then what’s so different about women ?

          1. Sex and caste are pretty different things. One of them is an absolutely essential ontological division- men and women are really very different in all sorts of obvious and non-obvious ways, physically, cognitively and behaviourally. Caste, not so much.

      2. That comparison between Denmark is not made. Its not a question of native vs foreign in my book – i don’t at all condone banning practices that r foreign.

        I realize that. It matters to me though: I’m more on the nationalist (or national-pluralist side, if you prefer) rather than the cosmopolitan side, so I place a lot of value on indigeneity. Banning foreign practices is one thing, banning practcies that a group *native to your country* has been practicing for over 1300 years is something different.

        In india with eye at social reforms we have banned or outlawed so many native practices. Courts are ruling on if women can enter a particular shrine in total negation of native customs.

        I’m aware of that, but I think a lot of those reforms were excessive as well. I can see arguments both ways with regards to the Sabarimala temple entry case, and while I don’t have a fixed opinion, I’m more than a bit uncomfortable with the idea of the state telling any religious body- Hindu, Muslim, Christian or whatever- what their view of gender relations should be.

    2. @Hector St Clare

      You are bullshitting in a manner which even Indian Muslims will not agree with. Only a small section of Indian Muslims feel that way.

      The majority gives itself foreign names, allies itself with remote causes (Palestine, Syria, Khilafat), claims foreign ancestry, asks for special treatment, runs away from joining the mainstream.

      You clearly do not have any clue about the modern identity problems besetting the Indian M community.

      Full marks to you on cultural-deafness!!

      1. wow that is some Victor Orban type bull!

        So the followers of a Middle Eastern monotheistic religion should still name their kids after “local” Hindu gods? If Sanskritised names are a requirement for being “Indian” then the Ladakhis and North-Easterns are also out right?

        Labeling 200+ million Muslims spread across India as mass claimants of foreign ancestry is simplistic communal stereotyping. Hindutva commentators continuously reminding the internet that Muslims of subcontinent are renegades who have rejected their Indian roots is a gross exaggeration. In Pakistan, claims of Arab or Persian ancestry are mostly used to boost religious pedigree by groups who have stakes in the religious economy, especially shrines. That too is not universally true for example the biggest evangelist in the country Tariq Jameel claims to be a Rajput. Most people of Indian stock i.e Punjabis and Sindhis still keep their cast identities (real or imagined) intact and endogamy is widespread. Jati plays a massive role in elections. So if after 73 years, millions of Muslims across the border have miraculously managed to turn Arab, then its nothing short of a cultural revolution.

        1. Man I just find it funny about branding certificates of treason on ‘foreign’ names, while speaking a ‘foreign’ language and unconsciously promoting a foreign culture..

        2. @BaasiDabalRoti

          You are clearly a onomastic troglodyte. You haven’t heard of desi names that have nothing to do with religion.

          My point to Hector St Clare was that he was handwaving actions in some countries while opposing them in others. Tum Karo to Balatkar, Main Karun to Chamatkar. Classic double standards!

          And this is not Orban territory. It is from Naipaul – he described South Asian Islam as a proxy for Arab Imperialism – cutting indigenous roots and turning millions into lobotomized wannabe Arabs. Wearing a black head-to-toe garment in a tropical humid country – these are new levels of unthinking obeisance.

          I also agree with the comments of others that this is a proxy for other debates. But if India has to insulate itself from religious obscurantism (and not turn out like Pakistan), it has to take action today.

          Today it’s a garment, tomorrow it will be science, then democracy. After all the Arab masters don’t love those things as well. The hordes will follow blindly.

    1. correction above for this double post, courtesy of Q, and it being HDI instead of gender index (they line up fairly congruently though)

  7. Muslims in India are not immigrants . That’s the first difference in comparison to Europe.

    The whole issue of Niqab should not be based on your views or your sensitivities. It’s the rights of the women who choices to wear it. Is this not the essence of feminism? Yes, there are questions on imposing it’s wearing, but that can be argued with any clothing. It can similarly be said that women are under enormous pressure socially and hypersexualised to wear very little. She chooses to interpret as she please. Yes I know I’m assuming it’s choice and not imposed.

    Now there are lots of intersections with this debate. The patriarchy, the religious context and our own ignorance. The bottom line is that it comes down to choice….. and is that not liberalism. When has difference no longer been tolerated?

    I neither would wear niqab or advocate it. I personally find it dehumanising, but that may be my ego and ignorance speaking. I respect the right of others to wear it and in return question my own intolerance.

  8. I see your points Shahada and to be honest I agree with most of them. I see lot of holes in my reasoning from abstract POV.

    But when I get from abstract to real – I still weigh in on that side. Or let me make it clearer.
    If I had a magic wand and only one wish is given a choice between UCC and Burqa I will wish the Burqa away ( not the same as Banning which I do find a tad wrong).
    In context of these I also find arguments for lot of forcible reform and even UCC weak.

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