The Burqa ban has always been a sensitive subject among its proponents and opponents. While proponents cited national security as the reason, the opponents say that it is an attack on individual liberties, freedom of religion and choice.
Post the recent Sri Lanka terrorist attack, the Sri Lankan President has banned wearing a burqa in public places. Shiv Sena also raised a similar demand to ban Burqa in India using their mouthpiece Samna. They said: “People wearing face masks or Burkha could pose a threat to national security”.
As expected, it didn’t go down well with many people.
Lets first understand Burqa Ban
The Burqa Ban is a ban on face coverings specifically the traditional head, face, and body covering worn by those women who believe in and practice Islam.
In 2010, France was one of the first European countries to impose a Burqa Ban barring any women to cover their face and head. In countries like China, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands also, there is a complete ban on Burqa. Even Muslim countries like Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia have imposed a ban on Burqa in the past. Later, a similar ban was demanded in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom.
This practice initially began in Europe and has been spreading across the world at a rapid pace.
Almost all Non-Islamic countries have at some point at least considered a Burqa ban. After the recent bombing in the Sri Lankan Church, Sri Lanka has become the latest country to ban the Burqa.
Sri Lanka’s Burqa Ban
In the aftermath of these tragic bombings, a presidential order was enacted that effectively banned any apparel that cover the face with immediate effect in an effort to aid the authorities in finding the culprits of the terror attack, Dharmasri Bandara Ekanayake, a spokesman for President Maithripala Sirisena, told Reuters, as reported by The Economic Times.
Why is it necessary to Ban Burqa?
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, quite often, men use the Burqa as a disguise to get into secure areas so as to enact terror attacks. Due to Islamic Personal Laws that instruct women to dress morally i.e. wear the Niqab, Hijab or Burqa. The idea is that the beauty of a woman can sway men and thus they must keep themselves fully covered in public settings.
To maintain the respect and dignity of women who follow Islam religiously, the security personnel tend to be lax in their checking, in fear of offending the woman’s morality.
The other reason that men tend to use the Burqa as a disguise for attacks is that it’s a very loose fitting garment and it covers the face, this helps them smuggle in arms and ammunition or even bombs that could be used to kill people, while also helping them maintain their anonymity, by having their faces hidden from security cameras and witnesses.
India on Burqa Ban
“This restriction has been recommended as an emergency measure to ensure that security forces do not encounter difficulties in identifying anyone. People wearing face-masks or Burqa could pose a threat to national security” Said the Sena in their party mouthpiece “Saamana” and “Dopahar Ka Saamana” as reported by Times of India
This small quote, in a local newspaper by the Shiv Sena, sparked controversy across our country. Many right-wing Hindus who object to the liberties granted to Muslims in our country to practice their Personal Religious Laws lauded this idea of a Burqa Ban. Often, the right wing extremists in India feel as though their personal religious liberties are impeded upon by the government by providing Muslims the right to exercise and/or live by their own Personal Religious Laws (Shariat).
The apparent liberal intelligentsia of India speaks up against the ban, as usual, claiming that the idea of a Burqa Ban was Islamophobic, and goes against the secular fabric of our country. They believe that one can not impede upon another’s religious freedoms which are guaranteed under the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion (Article 25-28 of the Indian Constitution). They also further argue that it is unfair towards women to enact such a law as it would strongly limit their movements and they would be restricted to living within their own household as long as they wish to/ are forced to adhere to Muslim Personal Law.
Javed Akhtar’s Comments
There has been an outcry by several news outlets on Javed Akhtar’s comments regarding Shiv Sena’s recent recommendation. Seeking a Burqa Ban for National Security reasons, like Sri Lanka. Akhtar has been quoted as saying;
“If you want to bring a law banning Burqa here (in India) and if it is someone’s view I have no objection. But before the last phase of election in Rajasthan, this government should announce a ban on the practice of ‘ghunghat’ (covering of the face by Hindu women) in that state,”
After his comments were misconstrued online, he issued the following clarifications:
Some people are trying to distort my statement . I have said that may be in Sri Lanka it is done for security reasons but actually it is required for women empowerment . covering the face should be stopped whether naqab or ghoonghat .— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) May 3, 2019
What kind of a world we are living in where it takes years and years of relentless persuasion to make them accept that an internationally known, evil and ruthless self proclaimed terrorist Masud Azhar is a terrorist .— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) May 2, 2019
On a personal note, while I can’t suborn the idea of a Burqa Ban, I do understand why one would want the same. I can also understand the position that Akhtar comes from. He is today and has always been more concerned with gender equality and secular ideology than national security. The point of his statements is basically to ensure that if one’s banning Burqa then the same should be done for ghunghat too. So as to facilitate gender equality across religious boundaries. Since face coverings are believed to be encroaching upon the liberties of women. Though his timing may have been wrong, his intentions were not.
Facial recognition is one of the key aspects to identify and catch culprits. No doubt, a covered face can make it very difficult. The government should take all possible steps to safeguard its citizen while also respecting the religious freedoms of its citizens.