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Behind the Veil of Lies
06/25/2007
By Ram Puniyani

Pratibha Patil, the Presidential nominee of UPA, in her address on the occasion of the birth day of Maharana Pratap, 17th June 2007, gave a very laudable advice about abolition of purdah (a veil which covers the face), with an understanding that purdah system is keeping the women backward. At the same time said that this purdah system came here to protect 'our' girls/women from the invading Mughals.

This statement of hers is a part of popular perception and has nothing to do with the truth. purdah was prevalent much before the Mughals attacked parts of India. Also it is not prevalent in all the parts where they ruled. The stories are prevalent that Mughals were defiling Hindu women so to protect them the purdah was introduced. Can this covering of face save one from the armed soldier or the attacking army? Is it a mechanism of protection from outsider or did it serve some other social function?

As such historically in many a societies women were made to use different types of covering of head, face and body. Sometimes it was a symbol of status but most of the times it was a mechanism of control over the bodies of women in a male dominated patriarchal society. Even in the Muslim world, large parts where the process of loosening up of feudal values has taken place, burqua is no longer used. Amongst Hindus it is prevalent mainly in Rajasthan and neighboring states, the places where the pre modern social values dominate the social scene.

What role did Mughal invasion play in the imposition of purdah on women? What has invasion to do with the purdah? It is true that Mughal army like most other past and present armies did atrocities on women. That Mughal armies committed atrocities is only part of the whole truth. The whole truth is that most of the armies, most of the times in the past and present have done and are doing the same. Cutting across different religions the marauding armies plundered wealth and raped women in the territory of 'other' king, the enemy.

How did this notion of, Mughal are responsible for our ills, come into being? British Historians in order to win over the loyalty of the people of this country had to demonize Muslim kings. They selectively presented acts of temple destruction, conversion to Islam, jizia and atrocities on women as the features of Mughal rule. This communal historiography on one hand won over masses of Hindus away from their loyalty to Muslim Kings and also sowed the seeds of policy of 'divide and rule' and initiated the 'hate other' between the two major communities. This communal historiography was put on its head by Muslim communal historians. This Muslim communal historiography in turn formed the base of Muslim communal politics and the one promoted by British served well for the goal of Hindu communal politics.

As such the period of Mughal kings on one side was a period of battles between the kings, but not along religious lines. One sees the alliance of Mansigh, Jaisingh with Akbar and Aurangzeb respectively. One also knows now that the administration of Mughal kings had heavy representation of Hindus, e.g. in the court of Aurangzeb 33% of his officials were Hindus. Rana Pratap, on whose anniversary Mrs. Patil was speaking had a loyal army genenrla with him, Hakim Khan Sur.

On the other hand it was also a period when the interaction between two major religious streams resulted in the mixed culture. This intermixing in the arena of music, literature, architecture, food, and clothing led to the advancement of our culture to higher levels in the subcontinenent. The highest point of this interaction was in the arena of religious traditions, where the Bhakti and Sufi saints presented religion as a moral force, a spiritual solace to bring the communities together. They presented the religion as the uniting force in contrast to the exclusionism of Olema and Brahmins.

Today extending the logic of communal historiography the Hindu communal stream has dumped all the ills of Hindu society on the Muslim invaders. Be it the caste rigidities, the purdah system or the female feticide, Muslims are held responsible for all this. The inner exclusionism, the hierarchy, the projected superiority of upper caste to exploit the lower castes in the name of religion was the root cause of the ills of Hindu society. Today by holding Muslims responsible for all these they successfully externalize the problem, and succeed in projecting their inner rigidities as the glorious past. The net result is an attempt to perpetuate the status quo of caste and gender, and to create an external enemy for the goal of political mobilization of a section of Hindus. One needs to scratch the surface to know the truth of social phenomenon, something which is missing in our social discourse, and that's what forms the base of "Hate other" and the consequent communal violence.