Guha, Glibly! He should next write on Bindis, Mangal Sutras and Sindoors


Have you ever seen an item of clothing kill maim, carve out intestines from a human body and rip open a skull? Meet Ramachandra Guha, who believes a Burqa can do this, like a Trishul.

“While a burka may not be a weapon, in a symbolic sense it is akin to a trishul. It represents the most reactionary, antediluvian aspects of the faith. To object to its display in public is a mark not of intolerance, but of liberalism and emancipation.”

Guha, in his Liberals ,Sadly, was replying to Harsh Mander’s Sonia, Sadly, on the increasing disposability of Muslims in the Indian polity.

Later in a series of tweets, he asserted,

“I have no objection to burkas at home or with family, but to come out in political rallies in them is indeed problematic. The hijab is more acceptable, more akin to the turban or the vibhooti. Nuance is critical here, not stereotyping, either of left or right.”

Burqa is meant to be used when leaving home and not at homes, really? Mr Guha clearly didn’t do his homework well. This made me wonder if he has actually met or interacted with some women in black, or he quivers in his corner by looking at us?  If he had, he would know that the Hijabis are confidently intelligent women with a keen sense of humour.

But they fear our Burqa! Guha likening it to a Trishul proves my point.

Yes, they fear it. Ask them the reasons. The unnecessary and unfounded fear is something they should explain. The liberal’s prejudice against the Muslims in the garb of ‘well meaning’ advice is well documented. Burqa on a Muslim woman’s body is something they are obsessed with.

My Burqa is harmless. It can’t kill or maim. It’s only an item of daily wear! Look, such a simple thing needs such elaborations. Still, have you ever wondered why why a sea of Burqa-clad women frighten the liberals?

Do they see a power behind the waves and waves of black veils? Do they become uncomfortable with the thought of the marginalised congregating and uniting in such large numbers?

I have been at both the ends of the spectrum, with or without a Burqa; hence I can tell you a thing or two about the difference. 

At some prestigious universities the only hurdle I have faced was my Burqa. At one place, when I won every academic contest hands down, the judge, a smarty pants, almost shuddered in disbelief, “I can’t believe you have won this.”

Reference to the lone Burqa-clad winner was obvious. With clear prejudice, she wondered aloud, how could I happen to be smart and intelligent even? Sad that people diminish me to just to a piece of cloth. At another conference, when I stood up in the auditorium to make my presentation, the judge, an elderly gentleman, took a look at me and unleashed his wrath, “I so hate burqa. I despise it. There is nothing more despicable, hateful a sight to me than a Burqa clad woman. I detest it, I shun it.”

You can imagine the state I was reduced to, on the stage, while all the eyes were at me. He later confessed that he had never seen such a performance, that too from a …, you guessed it right, a Hijabi. A left-liberal activist, my partner at the conference, smilingly told me, “You know, I don’t care for your ensemble, your Burqa” while pointing to the flowing wrapper on my head. I laughed secretly. If he didn’t care, where was the need to pronounce it to me?

Prejudice against Burqa is spread democratically, in all spheres and spaces of the society. Their discomfort is often palpable and I have begun to enjoy it. By now I have become battle hardened, 12 long years since I  started wearing it. In fact, I would be surprised if I don’t meet with derision and disdain from people, for and about my Burqa.

If Guha’s objection is on the basis of identity politics, then he should write his next on Bindis, Mangal Sutras, Sindoors and Vermilion on male foreheads. But wait, how come we object to these?  Aren’t these part of everyday religiosity of my Hindu sisters? Then why the hell is it wrong to wear a Burqa to work or to a rally as it is part of our religiosity? Burqa is as intrinsic to a Muslim woman as Bindi is to her Hindu counterpart. Period!

Not to mention just as my Hindu sisters would be dismayed if their Bindis were deemed unfit for public display, we Muslim women are baffled to see people objecting to our daily wear for outdoors and shocked at the idea of it being akin to Trishuls even! On a side note to all those non-Hijabi sisters of mine, who are posting their pics with a scarf, allow me to say; Hijab is worn to please our Creator and not to diss a certain historian.

Interestingly Guha tweeted Mahatma Gandhi’s quote from 1927, “It partly accounts for our own weakness, indecision, narrowness and helplessness. Let us then tear down the purdah with one mighty effort.”

Now we revere the Mahatma for what he was but we normally don’t take dictates on what to wear from anyone except our Creator. Purdah in those days also implied restrictions on the free movement of women outside their homes. Did the Mahatma imply the end of that tradition of Purdah, which prohibits women to leave home, to study, work and make decisions of their lives? To tell you the obvious truth, Burqa imposes no such restrictions on us. It doesn’t prohibit women on getting a degree, working and in general, making something of their life. On the other hand, it has only helped women gain easy access to the outside world for education and work. And ahem…even in our Burqas we do feel the fresh cool breeze caressing our being.

Try kar ke dekh lo!

The liberal position that Burqa just can’t be a choice for a woman is fanatical.

My rant is limited to Guha’s diatribe against the Burqa. His fear is palpable. It’s the Upper Caste fear of the marginalised sections of our society assembling and standing upfront against the injustice and, in the process, getting empowered. The fear you created around our ensemble, Mr Guha, is a figment of your imagination and reeks of your Savarna Saviour Complex. Step down from your high horse, please. This, making monster of a simple garment, turning it political, reflects your deep prejudice. We expect you to do something about it. Instead of advising us, Mr Guha should ask his people to not lynch us for what we eat, not harass us for what we wear and ask them to condemn such evil vociferously.

Muslims have become favorite punching bags, all over the world.

For cheating death, Sisyphus the Greek king of Ephyra, was everlastingly punished in Hades with rolling a huge boulder down the hill and then bringing it up the summit; repeatedly.  Even though a fruitless labour he, at least, had the satisfaction of doing something; we don’t even have that.  Our Sisyphus is hung upside down on a steep rocky hill, hands tied back, eyes and mouth covered with a mask. Some would say, he is alive; yes, but kicking?

Not even in a dream.

Last, but not the least, my question to the historian and his ilk is, would discrimination against us stop if we abandon our Burqas? Would the Hindu men STOP raping us, during the riots? Will the governments give us reservation in education and jobs if we burn our Burqa?

We are not going to abandon it as we ‘do it’ willingly. Our lovely veils, that not just complete us but give us our unique prestigious identity. Of course, there is still room for my non Hijabi sisters, who choose not to wear it. Together we make the picture complete.

The time is now to take the narrative back from these Savarna liberals and not allow them to distort our sacred notions. Questions on and about our faith, beliefs, practices are welcome and open for a healthy constructive debate but patronising us, taking us as oppressed because we choose the veil, and asking us to come out of it, is totally unacceptable.

Burqa, the symbol of Islam has the distinction of uniting both the right and left wingers, who stand exposed of their Islamophobia in their supreme hatred of it.

Drawing on the Mahatma’s words, I pray,

Hey Ram! Ramachandra ko sanmati de Bhagwan!

(Dr. Asma Anjum Khan hails from Maharashtra. She teaches English and is a motivational speaker. She also runs an NGO, FEEL (Foundation for English and Ethical Learning). She can be reached on Twitter via @AsmaAnjumKhan)