Burqa-clad women are “weighed down by a slavish mentality and an inferiority complex…”
–Dr B R Ambedkar on veil
When today’s liberal Jamaat is busy in proving how liberating a burqa or hijab actually is, let’s contrast their opinions with that of a true liberal like Dr B R Ambedkar. Though today’s liberal Jammat can give respite to over-worked Muslim clerics by declaring medieval veil to be a part of “authentic” Islam, Ambedkar had no difficulty in calling a spade a spade. Unlike today’s defensive liberals, who manufacture false equivalence between Islam and other religions in an attempt to save Islam from any genuine criticism, Ambedkar, a known critique of social evils amongst Hindus, had no difficulty in accepting, “Muslims have all the social evils of the Hindus and something more.” Let’s understand his views on burqa.
Cause of Incarceration of Muslim Women
There can be no doubt that the Muslim society in India is afflicted by same social evils that afflict the Hindu society. Indeed, the Muslims have all the social evils of the Hindus and something more. That something more is the compulsory system of purdah for Muslim women. As a consequence of the purdah system, a segregation of the Muslim women is brought about. The ladies are not expected to visit the outer rooms, verandahs or gardens, their quarters are in the backyard. All of them, young and old, are confined to the same room. No male servant can work in their presence. A woman is allowed to see only her sons, brothers, father, uncles and husband, or any other near relation who may be admitted to a position of trust.
She cannot go even to the mosque to pray and must wear burqa (veil) whenever she has to go out. These burqa women, walking in the streets, is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India.
Owing to purdah, a Muslim has no contact with any woman outside those who belong to his own household. Even with them his contact extends only to occasional conversation. For a male, there is no company of and no commingling with the females, except those who are children or aged. This isolation of the males from females is sure to produce bad effects on the morals of men
Such seclusion cannot but have its deteriorating effects upon the physical constitution of Muslim women. They are usually victims to anaemia, tuberculosis and pyorrhoea. Their bodies are deformed, with their backs bent, bones protruded, hands and feet crooked. Ribs, joints and nearly all their bones ache. Heart palpitation is very often present in them. The result of this pelvic deformity is untimely death at the time of delivery.
Cause of Agony, Pettiness and Moral Degeneration
Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment. Being deprived of healthy social life, the process of moral degeneration must and does set in. Being completely secluded from the outer world, they engage their minds in petty family quarrels. As a result, they become narrow and restricted in their outlook.
Under-Development, Slavish Mentality and Inferiority Complex
Muslim women lag behind their sisters from other communities. They cannot take part in any outdoor activity and are weighed down by a slavish mentality and an inferiority complex. They have no desire for knowledge, because they are taught not to be interested in anything outside the four walls of the house. Purdah women in particular become helpless, timid, and unfit for any fight in life.
Considering the large number of purdah women among Muslims in India, one can easily understand the vastness and seriousness of the problem of purdah. The physical and intellectual effects of purdah are nothing as compared with its effects on morals. The origin of purdah lies of course in the deep-rooted suspicion of sexual appetites in both sexes and the purpose is to check them by segregating the sexes. But far from achieving the purpose, purdah has adversely affected the morals of Muslim men.
Burqa Affects Morals of Muslim Men too
Purdah has adversely affected the morals of Muslim men. Owing to purdah, a Muslim has no contact with any woman outside those who belong to his own household. Even with them his contact extends only to occasional conversation. For a male, there is no company of and no commingling with the females, except those who are children or aged. This isolation of the males from females is sure to produce bad effects on the morals of men.
Burqa Leads to Sexual Excesses and Morbid Habits
It requires no psychoanalyst to say that a social system, which cuts off all contact between the two sexes, produces an unhealthy tendency towards sexual excesses and unnatural and other morbid habits and ways.
Social Segregation Between Hindus & Muslims
The evil consequences of purdah are not only confined to the Muslim community. They are responsible for the social segregation of Hindus from Muslims, which is the bane of public life in India. This argument may appear far-fetched and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other. Not that purdah and the evils consequent thereon are not to be found among certain sections of the Hindus in certain parts of the country. But the point of distinction is that among the Muslims, purdah has a religious sanctity which it has not with the Hindus. Purdah has deeper roots among the Muslims than it has among the Hindus. It can only be removed by facing the inevitable conflict between religious injunctions and social needs. The problem of purdah is a real problem with the Muslims—apart from its origin— which it is not with the Hindus. Of any attempt by the Muslims to do away with it, there is no evidence.