Purdah system has often been considered synonymous with women’s oppression and a traditionally and religiously motivated hindrance to women’s emancipation.
Before delving into the nuances underlying such perception and its hopefully successful de-construction, I think it becomes imperative on my part to define what is purdah system at first place. In loose terms, it’s an ideology which advocates covering of human’s body to enhance modesty. Purdah system is gender neutral which means, in other words, that it’s not exclusively for women as has been perceived by the popular imagination. It’s endorsed very much both for men and women in Islamic injunctions.
In the Qur’an Allah talks about the purdah for men first followed by women but unfortunately, Muslim society totally neglects it for the former. They’re never taught to wear loose clothes, lower down their gazes, guard their private parts. Muslim society has made modesty specifically a feminine phenomenon which is out-rightly wrong, which according to me is the stark by- product of patriarchy.
Qur’anic injunctions clearly talk about modesty both for men and women. This is precisely why purdah system comes under such criticism from around the world because people consider that it’s discriminatory to just ask women to do it and leave men as they want to be and this is where Muslim society has failed.
Outside the Muslim community, the popular perception pertains to how it is an oppressive thing to wear clothes or cover oneself. Somewhere, physical wrapping of one’s body has filtered in to the intellectual space too. Women with covered bodies also somewhere down the line imply covering and closing up of intellectual capacity. We’re considered as dumb, barbaric, in terms of constructive thought process.
This stereotype is the disguised product of the so-called ‘modernity’ of the western thought process which is an idea formed on the fulcrum as opposed to ‘primitive’. I find this water tight compartmentalization of these two categories, marking a break from each other highly problematic. The idea of what is ‘modern’ is highly western i.e. the west has decided for all of us what is modern and what is primitive. I think then it becomes unfair on our part to follow their ideals because it can’t be necessarily the absolute truth. I think, each of us should have the right to decide for ourselves out relative absolute truths for life. For Muslims, it is Islam and hence purdah shall be our undeniable and judgement free right because we don’t and shouldn’t impose it on others.
Also, this ‘modernity’ is also the by- product of the western capitalistic world which tends to objectify everything which unfortunately includes women’s bodies. They’ve been made commodities to supplement the male- dominated capitalistic world and economy. Their sexuality is used to earn unbound profits and it’s highly unethical and undignified for women as humans. In this process, their inner self becomes redundant at the expense of their physical self. I firmly believe that Purdah system saves us from that sort of disguised oppression and hence I’d choose it every time.
The poem is an answer to that and it asserts the right of women to cover up their body. When the whole episode of burkini ban happened in France, I was very disturbed because women were forced to NOT wear cloth, to show off their body unwillingly because it’s ‘modernity’ after all! I mean you can’t take clothes off people’s body, make them naked and say that they’re ‘modern’ finally. I’d reject such civilization.
I’m a peculiar case if seen from the common perspective regarding a burqa clad woman because I oscillate between the very problematic distinction of ‘modern'( LSR) and ‘primitive’ (a Muslim ghetto in Jamia Nagar with a religious bent of mind) world. Since I’m aware of the complex ideologies of both the worlds, I thought it was my responsibility to open up a discourse on burqa. I wanted to normalise it.
Watch my poem.
Video credit: Delhi Poetry Slam