ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Burqa Ban

A Muslim woman living in Europe talks of her experiences with markers of Islam and her reasons for affiliating herself with Muslimness alongside equally powerful reasons for distancing herself from its overt expressions in the public sphere.

In January 2001, prompted by an image published in the Telegraph (Calcutta), of Asiya Andrabi, the fully-veiled leader of the radical Kashmiri outfit Dukhtaran-e-Millat, I wrote an article for that same paper in which I discussed the visual politics of the woman who veils and those who reproduce her images. My basic observation concerned the ways in which the Kashmir problem was obfuscated, if not simplified, by conflating that issue with images that stoked barelysubliminal fears of an atavistic, resurgent Islam. I elaborated how, as a student in the prestigious universities of the United Kingdom, arrived from India that had yet to witness the repercussions of the Babri masjid’s demolition, I had been struck by instances of women from different Muslim societies across the world choosing to wear the hijab, indeed, while the mothers of many of these women went about their business heads uncovered.

This was still a world before 9/11, and my article generated a lengthy, if unclear, counter-response in the Telegraph folly of my position – the writer, a prominent academic, assumed that this position was one of supporting the practice of veiling. My mother, reading both articles, made a perspicacious comment: that, having wit on the nessed first hand the abuses of the pir system in a rural Bengali Muslim ashraf household, she could not understand what the fuss was all about: the burqa was, in her opinion, firmly a practice that degraded and entrapped women within patriarchy’s collusion with religion. Educated as a doctor in Calcutta, and married into what would be called a “highly progressive” Muslim family in which, for three generations, there had not been a veil in sight, she found it absurd that any woman would want to regress in this manner, especially if she had had the benefits of education.

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