Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Patil on the Veil; Shobhaa De on Patil.

Another storm in a teacup. First, the Congress-backed candidate for the ceremonial post of president in India urges Hindu women to throw off the veil, and adds a little bit of historical revisionism to urge them along. This doesn't go down too well with historians or Muslims. Shobhaa De writes a scathing article on Patil's candidacy, calling for an appraisal of her as a candidate "without this stifling regional tokenism and gender symbolism."

I'm pretty impressed with Shobhaa De's article. I thought she was just a trashy romance novelist. Well, she is, but I suppose there's more to her than that.

Also worth quoting is a bit from the Times of India article on the origins of the veil amongst Hindu upper caste women in India:
"Over time, seclusion came to be combined with purdah/ghoonghat and became a signifier of female respectability amongst the higher classes, and part of the feminine code of modesty. That is why it was also observed among elderly female relatives."

This is actually a very good summing up of why the hijab is becoming so popular amongst the Pakistani urban middle and upper classes. Its a signifier of gentility and respectability. It also asserts a connection to an 'authentic' Pakistani (defined as Islamic) identity amongst social groups that have historically been excluded from sharing power in the state apparatus and have therefore been alienated from the older form of "authentic" Pakistani identity which tended to have a very narrow class base.


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