The Girl Behind the Curtain: Hidden Women: 3

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Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley have each been the subject of numerous biographies, yet no one has ever examined their lives in one book—until now. Share: Share on Facebook. Related Lists:. LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices. Read it Forward Read it first. A woman's withdrawal into purdah usually restricts her personal, social and economic activities outside her home.

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The usual purdah garment worn is a burqa , which may or may not include a yashmak , a veil to conceal the face. The eyes may or may not be exposed. Purdah was rigorously observed under the Taliban in Afghanistan , where women had to observe complete purdah at all times when they were in public. Only close male family members and other women were allowed to see them out of purdah. In other societies, purdah is often only practised during certain times of religious significance.

Married Hindu women in parts of Northern India observe purdah, with some women wearing a ghoonghat in the presence of older male relations on their husbands' side; [4] some Muslim women observe purdah through the wearing of a burqa. This custom is not followed by Hindu women elsewhere in India. In ancient Indian society, like elsewhere around the world, "practices that restricted women's social mobility and behavior" existed but the arrival of Islam in India "intensified these Hindu practices, and by the 19th century purdah was the customary practice of high-caste Hindu and elite communities throughout India.

Although purdah is commonly associated with Islam , many scholars argue that veiling and secluding women pre-dates Islam; these practices were commonly found among various groups in the Middle East such as Druze , Christian , and Jewish communities.

The Girl Behind the Curtain : Hidden Women: 3

E and that Islam merely added religious significance to already existing local practices of the times. Muslim rule of northern India during the Mughal Empire influenced the practice of Hinduism , and the purdah spread to the Hindu upper classes of northern India. Lower class women in small villages often worked in fields, and therefore could not afford to abandon their work to be secluded.

In modern times, the practice of veiling and secluding women is still present in mainly Islamic countries, communities and South Asian countries. Purdah takes on different forms and significance depending on the region, time, socioeconomic status , and local culture. Some scholars argue that purdah was initially designed to protect women from being harassed, but later these practices became a way to justify efforts to subjugate women and limit their mobility and freedom. Proponents of the practice view purdah as a symbol of honor, respect, and dignity.

It is seen as a practice that allows women to be judged by their inner beauty rather than physical beauty. In many societies, the seclusion of women to the domestic sphere is a demonstration of higher socioeconomic status and prestige because women are not needed for manual labor outside the home.


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The rationales of individual women for keeping purdah are complex and can be a combination of motivations, freely chosen or in response to social pressure or coercion: religious, cultural desire for authentic cultural dress , political Islamization of the society , economic status symbol, protection from the public gaze , psychological detachment from public sphere to gain respect , fashion and decorative purposes, and empowerment donning veils to move in public space. The following reminiscence from C. Naim describes the evolution of purdah during the first third of the 20th century among the sharif or genteel people of Avadh , United Provinces , British India : [16].

It was not a part of my vocabulary as I was growing up.

I learned it much later, when I began to read literary and religious Urdu texts. The relevant word that I learned growing up was purdah. And I learned the word and its many meanings in the observed practice of the various female members of my middle-class family in Bara Banki , a small town in north India.

For Ammi, my grandmother, purdah meant almost never venturing out of the house. On the rare occasions when she did, it was always an elaborate ritual. Visiting a family in the neighbourhood -- only on the occasion of some tragedy, The little stool slung from a pole that two men carried would be brought to our back door -- the door to the zanana or the ladies' section -- and the two carriers would step away behind the curtain wall.

Ammi would wrap herself in a white sheet and squat on the flat stool, and a heavy custom-made cover would be thrown over her and the doli. The two bearers would then come back and carry the doli away on their shoulders. When Ammi traveled in my father's car, she covered herself the same way, while the back seat of the car where she sat was made completely invisible by pieces of cloth hung across the windows. Apa, my mother, belonged to the next generation. She used a burqa. I also remember that the older generation's burqas were usually white, while the new burqas were always black.

The two pieces allowed for easier movement of both arms and legs. The top had a separate veil hanging over the face, which Apa could throw back in the company of women, e. Apa wore a burqa all her life, except of course when she went to Mecca for Hajj. There she wore the same sheets of ihram that Ammi had to were [ sic ] earlier.

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They never wore a burqa -- that was for Muslims alone. Instead, they used a shawl, a plain white sheet, or the palloo of their saris to cover what was not for strangers to see. Their daughters traveled to school daily in a covered wagon that was pushed by two men, just like their Muslim counterparts.


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  5. The school was exclusively for girls and had a very high wall surrounding it. A different form of veiling, the ghoonghat , is found among some married Hindu women in rural North India. A fold of the sari is drawn over the face when the woman is in the presence of older male in-laws or in a place where there is likelihood of meeting them, e.

    It is not worn otherwise, for example, when visiting her mother's home or in a location far from the in-laws' village.

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