A Burqa for the Budding Belle


On a day when Kisan Bapat Baburav Hazare threatens to take on Mumbai, on a day when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar threatens to strike the hundredth hundred, I am moved enough to remember all those eyes that peer out of darkness of veils.

You feel the impetus is seriously misplaced?  With half the women in Saudi Arabia having thrown their femininity to winds driving cars, a neighbourhood incensed with Veena Malik for having shed her clothes and arguably, her modesty, to a rival nation and; Anita, a budding, merciful belle, writing to Nicolas Sarkozy to reconsider the ban on burqa, my little brain here is a whirlwind of emotions.

A face from childhood quickly reduced to a pair of eyes returns to haunt me. She was my sister’s friend from school, Nazia. Being close to and having accompanied my sister to her home a few times where we were promptly stopped at the door where Nazia would come to meet us, I was witness to the brief meetings for a couple of years or so.  They would talk in hushed tones, exchange a book or a box of watercolours, while I would stay at a distance. The occasional glances that fell my way had a devastating effect on me and I had my first childhood crush. Then out of the blue came that last meeting when our father got transferred to a new destination. Everything was packed off and time was scarce. We found our way for the last time to the stairs that ended at the door. We were gruffly told to wait. Nazia took an unduly long time coming and when she did it was not her. We met a girl covered from top to toe in black with a sliver that revealed a mere pair of eyes. Yes, those eyes were certainly the same but they had none of their old twinkle. They wore a sad, brooding look about them and they didn’t dance around anymore. She will have to don the hijab now on, she said under her breath and that was all that would be said. I remember I was holding hands with my sister as we just stood in an awkward silence, my heart burning with a desire to yank open the old familiar face.  Soon she was struggling to suppress the moistness in her eyes. I am sure if it was for losing an old friend, a part of it was also for earning the new companion in her life, the shroud. My sister cried the way back.

Since then, My encounters with burqa have been limited to veiled figurines flitting across the streets. Few other Muslim girls that I got acquainted with never covered their faces. Thus, it is probably preposterous on my part to start imagining that all Muslim girls hate burqa just as it is gratuitous on Anita’s part to imagine that all Muslim girls are yearning to exercise their democratic right of donning one. I am sure she is a well meaning girl, mature for her years, and eventually she will write to the Saudi authorities requesting them to allow their women to drive cars and crack their whips on the men who practice homosexuality instead, which is as un-Islamic as one can imagine.  She would write to the Muslim Tyohar Committee also requesting them not to outcast any Pakistani girl shedding everything she has, as it would tantamount to suppressing the democratic spirit of this nation. Finally, she would write to the Taliban too, who are undoubtedly headed to be the rulers of Afghanistan, thanking them for allowing their women to don the one-eyed burqa that majestically protects them from prying eyes even as they are trampled, trudged and ravaged at the cusp of childhood and adolescence by their legalised rapists.


  1. it take centuries (not tendulkar’s) to civilize the barbaric tribal. leave them alone.. they are not worth discussing.

  2. I have a couple of friends from school and college – from affluent, educated backgrounds, whose parents I have never seen toeing the diktats of orthodoxy – But all of them have embraced the burqa..they tell me its empowering, its an identity they are happy to embrace..and every day they use this facebook app to put up a teaching of the hadith for the rest of us to understand and appreciate Islam..sometimes I wonder if it is the perception of freedom and personal space that needs reassessment…While I think of the black garb as infringing on my right to assert my feminity, there are others who are proud to call it a symbol of theirs…So then, its live and let live, isnt it?

    1. Journomuse, you have certainly given me a point to ponder. Yet, with due respect to your friends, it is best if women shun wearing burqa in France and driving cars in Saudi Arabia. There may be much larger issues of national pride, culture, security and religion at stake. Further, and to put it softly, I fervently wish Islam did not look down upon those who choose to come off the veil.

  3. You have so beautifully captured the anguish of your sister’s friend and countless other women who are forced into doing things they are reluctant to. But I agree with Journomuse here. It is becoming more and more of an identity issue where religious symbols are concerned. The bottomline is having the freedom to choose what one wants to do.

    1. Childhood emotions tend to be pure, intense and overpowering. We get corrupted by acquired ideologies as we grow. You can say I remain permanently scarred, or biased, by those moments in my life. While I do subscribe in part to the issue of identity, the problem of belonging, so to say, there could be more urgent issues such as national security and sensitivities of others at stake in the bargain.

  4. In matters of religion, opinions become inconsequential. Personally, I believe in freedom of choice.Anything which is forced is not desirable.

    This post comes from the heart. However I would love to hear views from Muslim women on how they feel about donning a hizab, or burqua.

    1. Religious scriptures do get misinterpreted to subserve parochial ends. And when that also happens to be the law of the land, you enter the minefield at your own peril.

      I’ll welcome the views of our Muslim friends wholeheartedly.

  5. I have a problem when religion is used as a tool for suppression. And unfortunately it’s the women who are the receiving end. I feel such uncalled for regulations stem from an innate need for attention.

    Beautiful post US…

  6. I once met an IITian who was doing very well in studies and had bright future ahead of himself. But his parents were miffed about his not practising the religion more ardently. He got so peeved about it that he stopped visiting their parents somewhere near Meerut in western UP. This whole facade is nothing but an effort to keep their women away from the vices they quite regularly indulge in. Great post. Topic so randomly chosen though.

  7. My opinion on burkha is, wear one if you like. It is your prerogative. It is also the prerogative of the government of a non islamic country to ban burkha if it feels that hiding one’s face poses a security risk to its people. If you are OK with Saudi Arabia banning women from driving, who are you to protest French government’s decision to ban burkha, which is a much more sensible and practical decision anyway ? And as you rightly said, if banning burkha is undemocratic, then trying to pressurize a government to take action against Veena Malik is equally so.

  8. Great post!

    Religion has been a convenient tool for a patriarchal society to control women. Ultimately what counts is freedom of choice – a woman should have as much freedom as any other human being to make decisions that concern herself and things that impact her. Beyond that I don’t think that a woman in skimpy clothes is any freer than one in a burqa – both are constrained by the expectations the society they live in.


    1. Many thanks for the compliment.

      Religion must not have two sets of rules for the same set of humans. When it does that, it ends up being merely a tool of coercion.

  9. For some reason I do not like the burqa but I find it good to wear when I am in my native village. It gets you more attention if you don’t. But then there have been many girls over here who are very happy to wear the burqa, which Journomuse has put down well in her comment. I did not want my daughter to wear burqa but she insisted and got one for her.

  10. Farida, I am grateful to you for more than one reasons. It is your first comment here and I hope its only a beginning. Then again, you are the first of the visitors who could be directly affected by the burqa. I appreciate your candour on the custom and more than that, it is heartening to learn you did not force it on your daughter. For all those girls including your daughter who would rather use one, what is critical is that it is not something against their will.

    1. What I feel is, until the girl herself writes this post, venting out her feelings, it does not make much impact. If it is against their will they must raise their voice. Others cannot do it for them.
      My mother did not wear Burkha and went on to become a devotee of Sai Baba in Whitefield, even though she lived in a village where the laws were strict. My sister did not wear it either and also loved to put a bindi on her forehead. All they did was refuse to allow someone else to make rules in their lives. It is that simple. As I told you, my daughter enjoys it, may be because her friends do it. So unless they speak for themselves nothing will happen.

      1. Farida, you have apparently added this after a lot of afterthought. However, I am less inclined to accept your premise that a post on burqa would not be complete unless written by a woman. I may compare most unfavourably to Khaled Hosseini, but what you are essentially saying is that his moving account of tumultous lives of Afghan women remains incomplete till a woman rewrites those lives. Conversly, your logic would probably refuse to acknowledge many splendid portrayals of men by female authors. For all the hype on feminine (and masculine, if you will allow) sensibilities, I rather believe that humans are essentially the same.

        1. LOL.. If you really think that I spend after thoughts over religion related issues you are mistaken. I have given up on that long time ago. I don’t give a damn for religious issues. I came over to this post through your facebook and saw your reply to my comment and added my answer. I do not visit posts to check back my answers usually because I forget..:)

          My name usually misleads people into interpreting what I say wrongly. I really admire you for being concerned and bringing up this issue.
          My experience has shown me that the women in India have their freedom to handle their own lives no matter what religion they belong to. I have seen many women choosing the naqab for various reasons and also been shocked by the hypocrisy. I have written few posts about this on my blog too.
          Afghanistan is ruled by religious fanatics and the women there suffer a lot.
          India is different… we have a choice here and only need the guts to make it.
          This is something I reflected in my post here

          I really did not mean to offend you or your concern for girl in anyway… sorry if I did so.

  11. I have no idea how important Burqa is to the Muslim community, but it seems very!
    I feel somehow raising a voice against Burqa or at it’s use as per the will of a woman, is not considered an issue of freedom and personal thought, rather it is thought of as an attack on the religious sentiments. If we are able to draw a line between the two, I believe then only we could come any closer to a solution.

    1. Various customs and religious practices gain currency to address physical, social and existential problems of certain era. Over time, some of these get misinterpreted and some lose relevance. The need of the hour is to reassess them on the touchstone of time and place.

  12. It’s all about symbols when it comes to religion. Sikhs wear turban, Muslims ladies wear burqa and brahmins wear a sacred thread. But the point is you wear it if you want to. When things are forced on you then religion sounds more like a tool to serve some petty purpose. Burqa sounds more of that. A means to supress muslim females…

  13. Dear Pandey,
    Your ontological reflections are moving. They are icebergs.
    Story of Nazia tossed me into the state of perturbation for a long time.


  14. Happy to be here and see your views on a complex subject. The religious sentiments are something which cannot be changed even in societies which have become affluent and more educated! It is not always a tool of subjugation of weaker sex but beliefs which cannot change overnight!

    1. Religious sentiments, did you say, Rahul? I don’t know whether it would be appropriate to quote Sati and Bal-Vivah, but there is surely some food for thought there.

  15. Clicked in here from Cybernag and am hit hard by this moving post. I have myself seen a couple of muslim friends from school time who were expected to wear burkha and I even noticed they were kind of ‘proud’ to proclaim that it was a special privilege for them. I believe they were conditioned into thinking like this , such retrogressive values and systems.

    Beautifully written and hard hitting I would say.

  16. You wrote the post beautifully. Indeed, is it the intention to crush the individuality and identity of a woman when such restrictions are forcefully imposed on her in the name of religion. She must cover herself because lust lies in the eyes of the person beholding her. I can’t find a more convoluted logic. But, then is there any logic when power is misused. Glad, you pointed me to this post. You might want to read my new post where I hope that women in our country will rise to the challenge.

    1. Rachna, you have hit the bull’s eye and that precisely is my point. ‘The lust lies in the eye of the beholder.’ Go cover them!

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