Dukhtaran May Start Burqa Drive
24 July 2004
The Asian Age
Srinagar: Disturbed at what it believes is the rising debauchery of the Kashmiri youth, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith) is seriously considering restarting the purdah campaign to make head-to- toe burqas mandatory for the fair sex. The diktat, issued by the all- women outfit twice in the past, had failed to bring about much change in Kashmiri society as the majority of the local women did not give in. But its chief, Sayeda Aasiya Andrabi, does not completely agree with the notion. 'My experience is - and the state of affairs only upholds it - that the purdah campaign did succeed to an extent, if not completely,' she said. She has no hesitation in admitting that Kashmiri society is 'ailing.' In an interview to The Asian Age she asserted, 'It is true that our society is not durust (right) and we need to put it in order.' She added, 'I feel ashamed by the way our youth talk, behave and dress. Their beghairati (brazenness) has crossed all limits. They lack haya (modesty).' She regretted that the clergy and social leadership had failed to deliver. Hence, she says, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat might step in and embark on a 'sacred mission' of social policing. One of the options before it is to enforce purdah. 'Though we have not taken a final decision yet, don't you think society needs it,' she asked. About a decade after the Dukhtaran-e-Millat's campaign to force Kashmiri women to wear the hijab failed to modifying their apparel, the 'cat- and-mouse game' was on again in the predominantly Muslim Valley in the summer of 2001. However, this time its activists, who like Aasiya are seen veiled from head to toe, watched from a distance. A hitherto unknown outfit, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar, or the Army of the Omnipotent (Allah), claimed responsibility for spraying acid on two 'neem barahnah (half naked)' women in central Srinagar. One of the victims, a coppersmith's daughter, later treated in a hospital in Indore, lost one of her eyes. The impact of the wrongful act was so immense that, subsequently, hardly any woman could be seen on the streets without her head wrapped in a dupatta or scarf. The sale of the black cloth used to stitch burqas went up suddenly. But soon the fervour died down and the majority of Kashmiri women returned to their old practices. Aasiya does not approve of throwing acid on those who defy the diktat and, in fact, insists that the reason for targeting two Srinagar women was absolutely different from what appeared in the newspapers at that time. 'It was because of some personal enmity, and not as part of the purdah crusade. But, unfortunately, the media fell prey to the systematic campaign being spearheaded by Indian intelligence agencies to malign our freedom struggle,' she claimed and promised that she would 'never ever even think of disfiguring a woman, no matter how serious the cause.' Asked why then would the Dukhtaran throw paint on women for defying its purdah diktat, Aasiya claimed that the substance was non-toxic. 'In fact, before using it on others, we tried it on ourselves to ensure it did not cause any harm,' she said. She alleged that the government, and particularly its security forces, were 'encouraging' Kashmiri youth to indulge in 'wickedness' at public places. 'Go and see what is happening in our parks, gardens, Internet cafes, hotels, restaurants and during shikara rides on the Dal and Nagin Lakes. You will bow your head in shame, I promise,' she said.