Tag Archives: Purdah

freedom versus conformity in religion

A friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook recently. It juxtaposed a nun next to a woman in full hijab and asked plaintively – why is one allowed and the other persecuted?

Oh, you  mean you really don’t know?

Well then, one is a uniform for women who are in service to their religious order. It is not forced on the entire general female populace. The other is a symbol of systemic oppression forced on the female populace by many religions and cultures. Of course, Islam is not the only religion that steps on the liberty of women. Hindu religion and culture are big in that department too. Just as Islam has the hijab, Indian cultures have purdah. Most societies in the world do it. It is a patriarchal society after all!

The well-polished explanations and reasons given for the hijab –

  • It is not by force. Really. Not by force!
  • It is to protect the modesty, innocence, chastity, etc.
  • Rewards in later life or heaven.

The friend’s wife then got into the act. Apparently she was under the impression that I was taking a shot at Islam, me being  (technically and/or legally) a Hindu and all –

  • A woman is free to decide on her clothing.
  • All religions (including – wait for itHinduism!) recommend that women should cover themselves modestly.
  • I should know that my religion has faults too, before commenting on such sensitive issues.

So –

  • I am a spiritual atheist. While I believe in a greater power beyond the grasp of science as it is now, I do not subscribe to any religion. I am Hindu by accident of birth; but I don’t practise Hinduism. Hence, I don’t take kindly to accusations of partisanship.
  • I don’t read religious texts nor do I undertake scholastic trips to understand the “deeper meaning” of various religions and their practices. I do have, however, a basic common sense of how religious and cultural norms violate  liberties of the mind and person.
  • When your maulvis issue fatwas and your religious brethren kill or maim women and girls for not adhering to your “modest dress” code, you lose all moral authority on the issue.
  • Your religion dictates your dress code. In a secular society, religion is a personal matter. Thus your religious dress code is effective only in your house. This is the basic premise for France outlawing the hijab in public and state premises.

I rest my case.


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