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Rural Women in Northern India Are Challenging Patriarchy by Removing Their Veils

Veiled women going to work in the Thar desert. Image from Flickr by Nagarjun Kandukuru. CC BY 2.0

Veiled women going to work in the Thar desert, Northern India. Image from Flickr by Nagarjun Kandukuru. CC BY 2.0

The practice of women wearing full face veils in northern India is not a trademark of any particular religion. In much of the region, particularly in rural areas, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Muslim women, especially those who are married, are forced to observe the ritual of veiling the body. A ghoonghat (also called a laaj, chunni or odhni) is one such veil or headscarf that they cover their faces with.

It is greatly debated how this practice evolved to be in this particular region, but what is certain is that the veiling tradition has been in India for centuries. Throughout history more and more women have started to ditch the covering. However, in rural areas and some parts of urban centers, it still prevails.

Manju Yadav, a teacher from Mirzapur in Faridabad, Haryana, has started a campaign to help stop women from covering their whole faces. Her campaign has picked up and spread to 47 villages. The video below by Keep Trending news explains:

The video explains how the practice of ghoonghat is considered a sign of modesty and respect by some villagers. They say that it is important to cover women's faces to show respect for men.

Chander Shekhar, the deputy commissioner from the local administration, has supported the campaign, saying that the practice of ghoonghat affects women's self-respect.

For her part, Yadav says men ask women to cover their faces to keep them under control. “Ask a man to cover his face for a day, he will not be able to do it,” she says.

Forty-seven female village self-government heads (sarpanch) from Faridabad district took an oath in July to free their villages from the practice of ghoonghat.

Many Indians have reacted to this news. Chanchal Mishra wrote on Facebook:

[I]n the name of culture and tradition many such hypocrisy has been practiced for ages now. I was wondering why is the list for men missing when we are blessed to have such long list of illogical customs for women.

In a comment on BBC India's page, Ash Chowdhury explained the practice in further detail:

I'm from this kind of villages where these customs still survive and the veil (ghunghat ) where you don't have to do all the time its only when the lady is married and she is with in her in laws house or in front of husbands relatives

And Kavaseri Vasudevan Venkataraman Iyer opined:

If women want to wear veil let them. If they do not want to wear veil let them. It is ad [sic] simple as that. Men should understand and behave properly and not harass them.

  • Pingback: Rural Women in Northern India Are Challenging Patriarchy by Removing Their Veils | Freedom, Justice, Equality News()

  • Marathon-Youth

    The contrast between Northern India and Southern to Eastern India regarding covering the face with part of the Sari is startlingly apparent.
    In north India Hindu women go to the Temple with the “throw” of their saris draped over their heads and faces.

    In Southern India women go to the Temple without any covering. Same in Eastern India (Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh etc). That is due to the heavy influence of Islam in North India. The practice is enforced by women more than men.

    A “chaste” girl cannot find a husband if she goes around exposing her face, her female relatives including her mother would demand that she covers her face.

    That is not the case in the Southern states of India where Muslim influence is scant. It does not exist in Sri Lanka where Muslim influence hardly existed. Sinhalese women wear the “cloth and Jacket”. Sri Lankan Tamil women generally wear the sari. Both do not cover their faces.

    In other regions outside of North India the requirements for an arranged marriage does not include covering the face. Instead flowers are used in abundance on the hair.

    “India Shattering the Illusion. Birth of New Nations. Kashmir to Elam” by Columbus Falco

    • Thanks for your comment. Really interesting.

    • Shyanne

      So truly the traditions that are practiced and observed are dependent on the region in which the women live?

  • Shyanne

    I agree with on the comments referred to in the article. I believe the wearing of the covering should be up to the women in the region. If a woman believes strongly that the tradition of the veil is unjust then they should be able to remove the veil without fear of harassment or judgment.

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