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Burqa/Ghoonghat- a better or a bitter call?

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Be it burqa or a dupatta (mostly known as Ghoonghat), are both women wear, often igniting men to create chaos. The Islamic attire burqa has always been the topic of debate and controversy since many nations have banned it. The burqa is an ordinary attire- mostly black covering one from head to toe. But banning it in India is quite a controversial topic, as India is a democratic country- will it be right banning someone’s religious symbol? To understand this, first, understand the purdah system in India.

Purdah system is a religious and social practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim and Hindu communities, mostly in Asian countries. In Muslims, purdah is done by covering the whole body by wearing a burqa, whereas, in Hinduism, it is mainly done through the veil-like wearing a Ghoonghat- it doesn’t include covering the whole body but just the face, that’s it. The purdah system comprises four distinct elements that is hijab, chador, burqa, and naqaab. Each element used in covering the body is essential for purdah to be complete. The practice of wearing a burqa is prevalent among many other countries as well, unlike Ghoonghat which is mostly found in India only. So basically if we trace back history, the purdah system wasn’t initially here.

At first women-only wear clothes to hide their essential body parts, and the rest was opened freely. Whereas since the foreign invaders invaded India, by then, it came in knowledge and to cover, they majorly imposed the whole body.

During that time, women use to wear complete clothes, but what we refer to as purdah was not performed. It was when the Mughal’s invaded India and imposed the purdah system on the women. Soon the trend reached out to other parts as well, and the culture of Ghoonghat and burqa became prevalent. By the 19th century, one sees that purdah or you may call it Ghoonghat, was just a customary practice of high-caste Hindu and elite communities throughout India. So if we argue that the purdah system is built in our culture, then it would be wrong. Therefore,

coming back to the present, the public dispute is not new in India. People fight and argue on stupid issues but still keep on living together. Some scholars say that purdah was initially designed to protect women from being harassed. Still, later, these practices became a way to justify efforts to subjugate women and limit their mobility and freedom. However, others argue that these practices were always in place as a local custom, but were later adopted by religious rhetoric to control female behavior. Purdah is still considered related to honor and respect for the women. So when it comes to wearing a burqa or a ghoonghat at present, why do we argue?

The main reason could be gender sensitivity. Wearing these types of garments should be women’s call as they are typically women’s wear only. In many studies, it was found that by restricting women’s mobility, purdah results in the social and physical isolation of women. It limits them to work freely; in other words, even if the women desire to work, and she can’t function properly carrying a burqa or a ghoonghat. However, it’s not the case with everyone but for most of them, of course.

The purdah in modern times is sometimes perceived as a progressive gender relation. Some women wear a veil or a Hijab as a symbol for protection and freedom of mobility. So if we say that the purdah system is a complete evil- it will be wrong. Wearing a burqa or a veil should be up to a woman. If she feels empowered wearing it- let her dress, if she finds it uncomfortable- don’t impose it. The garment is in the end garments only, as women don’t put a word on men garments; men should also respect the choices of women. In recent times more than a choice, purdah has become a compulsion. Even if the women don’t want to wear it, she is forced to do so.

Purdah and the fashion:

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The purdah system today has sneaked into our way very smartly. Burqa, which was once just associated with the color black, today comes in a pallet of different colors and designs. Veils today has modernized. Initially, it was all about covering your head and face- but today has shrunk into just covering half of your head as a mark of the trend. A similar thing happened with the burqa as well, which was once mandatory to include the whole body today has replaced with just covering the head. We all have noticed women in western attire carrying a hijab overhead. Apart from it, much to our surprise, this type of fashionable purdah is widely accepted among the male community as well. More than a religious symbol, it has become a fashion statement. Today most of the women wear hijab to protect their face and head from dust and smoke, while the other carriers style it with their dresses. We can see a whole new range of such garments in the market. Whether purdah is being implemented as a form of oppression and suppression, is a critical decision point on the variety and variation in the final facade of the purdah system.   

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