Burqas make a comeback at gunpoint
17 August 2001
The Indian Express
Srinagar: AFTER a long lull, the burqa has made a comeback in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar. The long, usually black, loose-flowing outfit which Muslim women wear to cloak their bodies and faces has re- emerged after the attacks on women by a little known militant group, the Lashkar-e-Jabbar. Though militant outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen have denied making any threats on enforcing purdah, women in Srinagar are nevertheless covering their heads and bodies now. Though the scare has died down after the Hurriyat Conference and the people openly protested, the burqa, however, has failed to fade off the streets. More than ever before, it’s visible in Srinagar and south Kashmir. Working women have chosen safety over comfort and plumped for abayas, a long flowing outfit that covers the body, but not the face. Government school teacher Safia Akram (name changed) said women are wearing burqas and abayas more to deter attackers than follow any strict dress code. ‘‘I am wearing an abaya that was lying unused at home. Some of my colleagues have bought new ones. It is more a precaution, after the acid attacks,’’ she said. For fashion designer Batool Wani (name changed), burqa is now the rage in her designing classes. ‘‘After the attack, my students are discussing burqa and abayas. Now, we are holding special classes. There is little scope to play around with its design though. To be safe, I too have taken to the abaya,’’ she said. For clothiers, the threat means better business. A readymade abaya and scarf sells anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000. The cost of fabric and tailoring, however, doesn’t exceed Rs 700. ‘‘Suddenly, there is good demand for burqa cloth. We are using the old stock,’’ said Muhammad Ayub, owner of Buxom Cloth House, Khaniyar. The south Kashmir district of Pulwama too has reported higher sales. A burqa frenzy was first triggered in 1990 when acid was thrown on a girl in Srinagar on January 10. Women had rushed to wear burqas after the incident. But in May that year, an unknown militant outfit asked them to shun burqa because they feared several burqa-clad women were working for the security forces. In 1991, militant outfit Allah Tigers reiforced the burqa code. Dukhtaran-e-Milat, a pro-Pakistan radical women’s group, and Muslims Khawateen Markaz, affiliated to JKLF, supported the demand. These outfits even punished some women in public for flouting the code. They doused girls in coloured water and forced drivers not to carry women who were without burqas. The campaign died a natural death as violence mounted in J-K.