Purushu's award winning fashion blog was founded in 2009 while studying fashion design at NIFT New Delhi. At the age of 19, he wrote show reviews for FDCI's Designer Node dailies at India Fashion Week, New Delhi. Following a stint as menswear designer at Future Group (Lee Cooper), Mumbai in 2013, he relocated to Chennai where he continued freelancing and authored fashion columns for The Hindu newspaper. In 2017, Purush Arie blog evolved into India's first ungendered fashion label. Purushu spoke about gender neutral revolution through fashion at TEDxChennai in March 2018.

How Does Veiling The Face Empower Some Women?

“Nudity empowers some women. Modesty empowers other women. It’s not your place to tell what a woman should wear.”

It’s one of the most popular quote shared across social media in defence of veiling and hijab. It’s only natural that nudity empowers some women. Being proud of our body, just the way it was created liberates us from various societal expectations and norms. However the second sentence of the quote can be rather fascinating. With relevance to veiling, how does covering the face, hair and neck in particular empower somebody?

The first recorded instance of veiling for women is recorded in an Assyrian legal text from the 13th century BC. In the patriarchal society of ancient Rome, married women were often chiefly clothed than unmarried women. Apart from survival and modesty needs, a new motive of clothing was furnished in Roman era – a moral protection on a man’s property (read: women). Roman women were expected to wear veils as a symbol of the husband’s authority over his wife; a married woman who omitted the veil was seen as withdrawing herself from marriage. In 166 BC, consul Sulpicius Gallus divorced his wife because she had left the house unveiled, thus allowing all to see, as he said, what only he should see. It is significant to note that it was in the same period that women’s clothing (gender specific clothing) came into existence as opposed to unisex clothing worn prior to the period.

Costume of European women by 10th-11th century | Credit: World4.eu

Concept of veiling found its way into every Abrahamic religion which united together the masculine virtue of modesty and prescription of sexual abstinence. Rise of Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam thereby cemented the survival of veil for centuries to come. However, it is remarkable to note that Asian religions like Buddhism & Sikhism strongly condemned and opposed seclusion and veiling of women.

Veiling in Christianity

Veiling in Christianity

The sexist attitudes that led to origin of veiling are quite evident within religious texts. Based on 1 Corinthians 11:4–16, St. Paul wrote that any man who prays with his head covered (with hat) brings shame upon his head whereas any woman who prays with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head. St. Paul goes on to explain, “A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man.”

 

The veil (purdah) found prominence into Hindu households in India after Mughal conquests in Medieval era. Many Indian Hindu men often boast about how women in their household won’t attend guests unless their faces are veiled. Of course, jealous husbands of the past had a significant contribution in protecting the custom of veiling, overtly emphasizing on chastity, modesty and purity of a woman.

ghoonghat-hindu-women-veil

Rajasthani Hindu women wearing Ghoonghat/Purdah

While the origin of veil has sexist roots (like many other items of clothing), is the veil itself oppressive? No. There is nothing inherently liberating or oppressive about the veil, much like there is nothing inherently liberating about going naked. Liberation or oppression depends on having or not having a choice. Is veiling their choice? Do they have a choice to wear a veil or not? Social liberty comes with freedom of expression – freedom to veil or not veil.

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  • ANON
    Reply
    July 7, 2016

    Sometimes you cover up in a burkha, veil or a dupatta because you just don’t want the glare! It’s then when covering up ‘frees you’ from preying eyes. It could be the lascivious eyes of men, envy from women or judgement from both. When travelling to certain areas, women know they have to dress modestly to prevent themselves from sickos. The enlightened thought of ‘don’t rape even if I wear a mini skirt’ has not reached many sections of society. As a precaution, covering yourself might help. Also, why should anyone other than people in a lady’s immediate surroundings know what her hair, skin, body looks like? It’s not a sign of repression, it is in a way toeing line of modesty by not trying to invite attention to yourself. A nicely embroidered abaya may attract attention but still does the job of retaining modesty. Modesty is a path that you follow for spiritual reasons more than anything.

  • Prathyush
    Reply
    August 16, 2016

    Again my problem, there are references of veilig in pre mughal india and we can not ‘blame’ it (in absence of better word in my vocab) on mughals or earlier muslim invaders. But my question is, since you are a fashion designer blogger, can you enlighten me how society is attached to fashion of its own time and opposes the latest trend.
    Back to veil , you live in delhi then in summer you must have seen women and men totally covered to prevent themselves from loo, this may be the climatic reason for veils, especially in area where loo does blow like northern india.

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