Wailing for the Veil

Nicolas Sarkozy’s recently proposed ban on the burqa for Muslim women in France, raised several debates the world over. Some criticized it, while some even supported it. As I pondered over the issue, several questions came up in my mind.

Sarkozy’s ban was supposedly to promote secularism in his country. Agreed that France is indeed one of the most tolerant countries, having the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe, but is this the way to achieve secularism? Secularism cannot be obtained, if you impose your views on another religious group, forcing them to abandon their beliefs and practices, unless…

Unless the beliefs and practices are not for the common good and welfare of all the people. According to Mr. Sarkozy, the veil symbolizes the suppressed, dominated and backward status of the Muslim women, something that is hindering the development and progress of the women in this day and age of modernization. But do the Muslim women in France who don the burqa actually feel that their freedom is being denied or do they embrace it as a matter of choice? It has been found that most women in France, wearing the burqa, firstly, whose number is estimated to be only around 100, wear it more out of free will. And in doing so, they feel proud and contrary to that “non-liberal” image of the burqa, feel more confident, secure and safe to venture out in this attire.

If that is indeed the case, then why ban the burqa? In whose interest is the ban intended then: the wearers of the burqa, the non-wearers of the burqa or Mr. Sarkozy’s own political agenda? It is only when such bans are proposed for the sake of political reasons, does it actually create social divisions in a country. It could even lead to political, social and religious tension. People suddenly start getting conscious of the burqa clad women, seeing them in a different light altogether, often negatively.

The issue is indeed a delicate one, where it is not easy to pass a judgement. Yet, whatever happens, the interest of the Muslim women should be kept foremost in mind, with room for flexibility in the rules. It should neither hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims, nor damage secular motives. Ultimately, it all depends on why a Muslim woman chooses to embrace the burqa. If she feels comfortable under it and not inhibited, does work and gets treated like any other non-burqa clad lady, then the ban is not required. If, however she chooses to wear it due to tradition and personally, she is not comfortable, then maybe the ban stands validated. Whether Muslim women want to don the burqa should be based on individual choice and decision, not on a group, i.e. the religion’s socialization or a community’s force. Only then can the State satisfy both ends of being secular as well as liberal.

Ipsita Sarkar

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leemackay33/2357619737/]