Sri Lanka ban on ‘face veil’ sparks burqa debate in India

Sri Lanka ban on ‘face veil’ sparks burqa debate in India

  • Shiv Sena, a regional party that takes hardline on Hindu nationalism, has recommended a ban on burqas in India as an “emergency measure.”
  • The proposal was made in Sena’s mouthpiece, the Marathi language daily, Saamna.
  • The proposal has come three days after Sri Lanka banned face coverings after terror attacks killed 350 people.
Just three days after Sri Lanka issued a ban on all face coverings in the wake of Easter Sunday terror attacks, a regional party in India affiliated to Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has openly called for banning face masks and the burqa.

Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena party, which is known for its parochial politics and majoritarian Hindutva ideology, has reportedly recommended a similar ban in India, as an “emergency measure to ensure that security forces do not encounter difficulties in identifying anybody.”

South Asia, largely, has been on an alert since the terror attacks in Sri Lanka that killed over 350 people. In India, a hoax call warning the Karnataka police, claiming knowledge of a possible terror attack in South India, led to much panic and confusion led to much panic and confusion.

While the Sri Lankan government’s ban stopped short of naming the niqab, burqa or the hijab, the ban is being seen as a crackdown on the country’s Muslim community and has divided opinion in the island nation.

The call for the ban in India from Shiv Sena is not surprising, and it’s likely to open up a wider political debate on the garment identified with Muslim women. Given the party’s close ties with the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP, the polarising rhetoric may even find vocal support. After all, the general elections are underway in the country and 30% of the electorate is yet to vote.

The BJP, Sena’s ally, itself has led the charge against some of the Muslim social practices. The regressive “triple talaq” -- where the husband can divorce a wife just by saying “talaq” thrice -- has been one of the party’s flagship campaigns. Even as India’s supreme court sought to ban the practice through an ordinance, a bill introduced by the BJP banning triple talaq faced opposition in the upper house of the Parliament.

There is also a campaign against “nikah halala” -- the practice that forces some Muslim women to marry another man in order to be married again to their divorced husbands.

BJP has also promised to introduce a uniform civil code that will exclude any existing privileges afforded by Indian law based on religion. This was an election promise in 2014 too, but the debate hasn’t progressed since.