All over the world it is not uncommon to see Moslem women in large numbers travelling by bus and train wearing a black cloak that leaves only the face or the eyes visible. The entire body is covered in a shroud and is distinctive attire that will arrest the eyes of any onlooker. This is dress peculiar to Moslem women and is referred to as the ‘Burkha’ or the Hijab lot many do not also wear it, as it is not compulsory like in India, but in orthodox Moslem nations like Saudi Arabia wearing the Hijab is mandatory and there is no choice in the matter.
Attention on the Burkha has been riveted after the French Assembly banned it in France, as they consider it a form of subjugation of the woman. Moslem clerics there have up held the ban. This banning of the Burkha in public places in France, which is championed by the French President himself has brought the focus on this dress and the world has started taking note of this form of dress. However it must be pointed out wearing of the Burkha is not mandatory. Islam only mentions that women be dressed soberly and not show themselves. The Burkha is an invention of the hard line Moslem clerics.
Recently I had a date with a Moslem girl friend. Earlier she never wore the Burkha, but this time she came with a Burkha on. On my questioning her as to why she had worn it, she replied that it was not a constraint and all she wanted to do was emphasize her identity as a Moslem. As an educated lady she felt it was a symbol of her freedom as well as a mark of identity, and for that reason she liked to wear it. The Burkha is a matter in real terms to be left to the individual girl or woman. Though the security agencies have some apprehension of its use by terrorists as a decoy, yet it is really a harmless piece of clothing. It certainly is a statement of a separate identity and a lot many women will voluntarily wear it.
The Burkha however has become part of politics with hardliners on both sides having divergent views. Some visualize it as mark of subjugation while others say it is a mark of individuality. Many European nations are moving ahead to ban the Burkha in the public place. Maybe they have a point, but in India it thrives and is a mark of identity and many women wear it. It cannot be wished away.