France is about to outlaw the hijab. India should follow suit
French President Nicolas Sarkozy believes that the burkha is a debasement of women. He intends to ban the wearing of what is only a piece of black cloth if you took religion out of it.
There are over five million Muslims in France, most of them migrants. One of the abiding mysteries of migration is the need to be elsewhere than home—because home is poor and sick and stifling—and still behave as if nothing has changed. So you go to another country or another culture and continue as you would have at home. The pumpkin has turned into a gilded coach, but inside, lolling on the cushions is the old stubborn, petty, poor you.
There are large-scale Muslim migrations happening from North Africa to Europe. By mid-century, one in every five Europeans will be Muslim. Is that too many or too less?
As it is, the suburban apartment blocks—banlieues—where Muslim populations in France are ghettoised, are seeing a sharp rise in violence and incidents of domestic abuse. It is a mystery why people would risk their lives for a hole and corner under an alien sun and fight to their last breath so they can remain the same. Islam is one of the youngest religions in the world, but they resist the idea of change with the passion of the truly old. Sarkozy is, of course, right. The burkha, never explicitly mentioned in the Quran, is a means of subjugation. There are of course women in Islam who say that the burkha is a cloak of safety and liberty.
That they are safe from the male gaze and are free to smile or snarl at the world within its dark commodiousness. It is also a kind of flag, the Republic of Islam wrapping itself around the precious female body. So keep off it. Really, the only justification for the burkha is if you are truly ugly, in which case all is forgiven.
I am a Hindu, raddled like good Hindus are with alcohol and heresy, who finds it really hard to believe in the existence of a god. I certainly find it impossible to believe in a god that puts a woman inside a black sack and asks her to act like one, or recommends in chaste Arabic, as opposed to Bhojpuri or Russian, that Sania Mirza play tennis in a hijab, and go down on all fours in the direction of Mecca every time she scores a point, which in any case is far and few between.
India ought to take a lesson from France. There are over 130 million Muslims in this poor, eccentrically secular country. As in most segments, women in Islam in India are the most backward. And the burkha is a symbol of that backwardness, graphic in the gender segregation woven into the fabric of that cloth.
In all the recent debates on the ‘Muslim question’ in India, the consensus hovers over the lack of leadership in the community. Reform must come from within, pundits think. Definitely, may be. I’d like to believe Islamic reformation will come from their women, simply because they are the most oppressed. But it is going to be hard to fight from behind a curtain. Help them tear it apart.