, by AUSAF
Pratibha Patil's education is not under dispute. What is under dispute is her commonsense, knowledge, scholarship and erudition, which Dr. S. Radhakrishnan or Dr. Zakir Husein had, to an extent.
While speaking at a function at Udaipur on June 18, which was organised to observe the 467th birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, the future occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan said: “Purdah system was introduced in India to protect women from the Muslim invaders.”
Ms. Pratibha Patil, to semi-literate Muslims like me, appears to be “Hafiz” of Mr. P.N. Oak, who in the 1960s dished out his well researched thesis that the Taj Mahal is a Rajput palace. Or may be during her gubernatorial assignment, she, though a staunch Congresswoman, unconsciously got influenced by the Saffron view of history: “Keep telling lies until they assume the overtones of truth and everything great is Hindu.
Whatever the case, she showed less-than-decent haste in demonstrating her deep insight into Indian history. In the process, the otherwise elegant lady has burnt her fingers. Or her statement Prof. B.P. Sahu of Delhi University reacted: This statement is in keeping with the normal tendency of blaming everything on Islam. Varsha Joshi of the Institute of Rajasthan Studies said: Muslim invaders had nothing to do with purdah system in Rajasthan. Here Rajput leaders did not allow their women and daughters to go out without veils.”
“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, so says Nandita Prasad, who teaches history at JNU.
Historian Satish Chandra, in his monumental work Mediaeval India avers: During the Delhi Sultanate period, beginning in 1206, the practice of keeping women in seclusion and asking them to veil their faces in the presence of outsiders became widespread among the upper class women…. The Arabs and the Turks brought the custom to India, and consequently, it became widespread in north India.... Those who wanted to be considered respectable tried to copy it. Also religious justification was found for it.”
Historian Kegan Paul traces the practice of the custom back to the Vedic period. Anthropologist Patricia Jeffrey says: Seclusion and veiling of women was not unknown before the Muslim invasion. It appears that a social ideal recommending women to remain in seclusion to mark their complete loyalty towards their husband already existed.”
Historian Irfan Habib, noting that instances of seclusion of women in India went back to Mauryan times, said: It is silly to talk of the Mughal invasion being the reason for the seclusion of women and introduction of the veil. “The seclusion of women was seen even in Mauryan times. It is, in fact, mentioned in Kautilya's Arthashastra. To say it was of the Mughals is like saying that they brought sati to India…”
If Ms. Patil's less-than-responsible remarks are not the result of her readings of garbled history, then surely she has been influenced by the western implant Mustapha Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, socialism-inclined Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and the utterly imperialist Mohammed Reza Shah Pehlavi of Iran. Look! what unanimity existed, and exists between the diagonally opposed ideologies on the evils of veil. These leading lights of the yore, who strode like colossus on the soils of their respective countries during their respective times, had also burnt “hejabas” or “burquas” or “chodors” on their capitals' respective central points. They would turn into their well-kept-graves if they are told today by someone: The modest womenfolk of your Majesties' respective countries continue to wear veil!
The nondescript maidservant of our house barged in un-noticed when I was finishing this piece. She is around 30, mother of four and semi-literate that she is, she is neither Marylin Monro nor Lolo Brigedia nor Aishwarya Rai, just a maidservant. Lest my wife should be around, as she keeps a watch on me, I asked: Seema! Does this long veil, this heavy “burqua” not cause hindrance in your work? Sir, till date you never asked such a (silly) question to me. Why this today? I, running for cover, smattered: Nothing. Our next President wants Muslim women to do away with it. Sir! I believe she should be having several bodyguards. Yes, I said, she would be Commander-in-Chief of the country!
She would be having Army, Air Force and Navy to keep her and the country safe and secure. Swiftly cutting me short, the maid said: “But my armour, my defence is only this tattered veil. It keeps the predators (like you) at a safe distance.
I considered myself slapped at this reply of the maidservant.