The most debatable issue of the week has been the implementation of the ban on wearing burka (veil on the face) in public places in France. This has caused a contrary stir among the different sections of the society. On one hand we have the feminist side that has always aided with doing away with this system of covering face but on the other side is preserving once’s cultural legacy. Here the reason behind this stringent step is regarded as right for France, beneficial to its Muslim communities and justified.
As per some of the media reports on BBC there are many women who are not following this ban and continue to wear burka out of choice. They are ready to pay the fine and are protesting against this. For them it is denial of freedom of expression. As citizens of democratic nation they are not ready to accept it. It is rather strange to many feminists that many women claim to wear burka out of choice but hard to believe. The Muslim-identity seems to be taking this as the biggest blow to their sense of expression.
But this covering of face is not limited to Muslim religion. Even in India there were many non-muslim sections of the society that used to follow a pardah system (not wearing a burka but a veil on the face). I still remember during the early years of my childhood I have vitnessed Hindu married women covering their face in the front of the elders in the family or strangers in many parts of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. But over last couple of decades we have seen less number of women following this practice. Perhaps, this change was to keep pace with the changing times. Indian government has not passed any legislation to do away with this practice. It came as a result of personal choice.
The world we are living in is moving fast and in this era of information superhighways burka seems to be part of the bygone era. With the growth there has been a rise in global threats. Incidents of terror strikes are not unknown to us. Keeping the security and safety issue in mind this seems like a sensible move on the part of the French government.
There are many who believe that Burka is not a choice rather an obligation for many muslim women. According to a news report published in ‘The Guardian’ Mme Amara painstakingly explains the practice of wearing burka as ” the problem with all those charming liberal pieties about allowing women to choose how they wish to dress. Large numbers of the women who wear the burka – whether in France, Britain or anywhere else – don’t have a choice”. Xavier Bertrand, head of the conservative UMP party, said the full veil “is simply a prison for women who wear it” and “will make no one believe” a woman wearing it wants to integrate. The issue in France is about integration of women with the rest of the population. In a way making them active participants in the society.
All sounds so good on the part of new French legislation. President Nicolas Sarkozy said full veil “is contrary to our values and contrary to the ideals we have of a woman’s dignity”. Perhaps, this seems like a brave and bold initiative. The real battle is going to start because there has not been any EU nation that has tried to do away with the full veil by passing a legislation.
The real reason behind the protest by muslim women is that again this comes as something forced on them rather than out of choice. Had it been a personal choice it would have been more than welcome. The anonymity associated with burka should be replaced with the individual face. This full veil should have been done away with much earlier by women themselves. Not an outright rebellion but as a change with the changing times yet retaining the cultural values. Instead of coming up with a strict legislation French government should have taken the initiative to invest in education and uplift of this section of population making them more aware and informed. Thereby leading them to make a personal choice instead of a forced one.
While the multicultural self of mine still believes that every individual has a right for cultural expression. If we keep doing away with the cultural practices then the beauty of the cultural mosaic will be lost soon. Anything which is a result of forced obligation to abide by the law or the religion is something I don’t support. Right to expression and free speech is basic for all the human beings. If these rights are denied then we are free no more.