Tarar Square

If Bushra Khan chooses to wear a full veil, what's your problem?

What Pakistan PM's wife chooses to wear is not affecting anyone else. Why is it then a topic of malicious discussions?

 |  Tarar Square  |  8-minute read |   30-09-2018
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When I was in my early teens in the ’80s, I started, on being told, to wear a dupatta that covered my head. After my parents’ separation when I was five, being raised together with my younger sister, by my paternal grandmother who was very clearly and rather loudly religious, living in Sargodha — a small, conservative and openly feudalistic city in Punjab — covering my head at the age of 13-14 was not something the gawky, tall and tomboyish me liked but it was never something I thought of putting up a fight for.

Almost all the girls and women in our familial and social circles wore chaddars, something my sister and I never had to do. Our veil was restricted to our head and chest. I did what was expected of a girl living with a lady who took all her guidance from religion, and who was also inspired by the traditional ethos of our feudal background and the backwardness of the city that had many residents from nearby villages.

bushra-inside_093018010707.jpgMrs Bushra Khan has the right to be the person she wishes to be, and be veiled the way she wishes to be (Twitter)

At the age of 17, after I moved to Lahore to start college, covering of head was no longer mandatory. Living in college hostel, there was not much day-to-day interaction with my father whose very demeanor despite being attired in western clothing spelled a deep conservative nature, old-fashioned thinking, and strictness that bordered on absolute control. There was no mention of covering head as long as the clothing remained conservative, which in our case was simply that. The only time we covered our head was when we travelled to our village. It stemmed from our village traditions, something that females from our family were supposed to do when we stepped out of the house. I don’t remember ever owning a chaddar, but in my college days, I’d borrow one from someone in the family when I roamed around in my village. Females in my family were expected to be covered, unquestioning. It was a patriarchal rule; the imposition wasn’t religious.

college_093018012011.jpgCovering of head was no longer mandatory after I started college. (Reuters photo of a music festival in Islamabad)

My husband, now former, never imposed any rules on me regarding clothing. There were no sartorial no’s, there were no instructions to behave in a certain manner, there was nothing about a dupatta, or covering this or that part of the body.

My choice to wear what I want or how I wish to cover myself or not beyond my childhood and teens, and certain pressure from my family until a certain age, took shape from who I was, the re-evaluation of my choices, the recalibration of my value system, the alterations in my outlook on life, how I self-gauged my journey, and how I changed or evolved as a person. My religion, my culture, my family background, and the country of my origin have been a dominant influence, but the choice to wear a dupatta or not has been mine since my early 20s. My reading of the translation of the Quran familiarised me, beyond what I had been taught, with the divine injunctions about covering the body, modesty, and behavioural do’s and don’ts.

I don’t claim to know much, but what I learnt from the Quran and the work of some religious scholars is that Islam does not have an injunction to cover your face. This is not an absolute statement, and I have no issue accepting the opinion of those who believe that covering of face is mandatory.

bushr_093018010933.jpgNot an imposition: Her veil is absolutely voluntary, based on her fundamental freedom of choice. (Photo: Twitter/Nadeem Malik)

To cover or not to cover. To wear a full-body veil or not. To cover your face or not. I find this debate devoid of nuances and quite counter-productive to begin with. In an Islamic country where countless women cover themselves in varying degrees of modesty, familial pressure, societal expectations, and in many cases, religious influences, it is merely pushing of an agenda of divisiveness targeting one woman for her veil. Mrs Bushra Wattoo-Maneka and now Khan, the third wife of Imran Khan, and who before and after Imran Khan became the prime minister of Pakistan has been a subject of huge but unfortunately an expected barrage of curiosity, commentary, praise and criticism. Without going into who, what, how, when, where of her life before marriage to Khan — as that is none of mine or anyone else’s business — all I wish to highlight is a simple fact: Bushra Khan’s full veil and covering of face is not a patriarchal imposition, a marital demand or an act out of any societal pressure. Her veil is absolutely voluntary, out of her free will and based on her fundamental freedom of choice.

Here are a few facts: No other woman of any age in her own family, and that of her former in-laws, including her own daughters, sisters, relatives and friends, observe the kind of purdah Mrs Khan does. Mrs Khan in her first interview to Nadeem Malik, Hum News, categorically stated that her veil is her choice based on her religious beliefs, and there is NO expectation or demand of anyone following her example. Mrs Khan, in her own words, other than doing some social work, is not planning to be in public life, and that makes her decision to be fully veiled relevant in another way.

A woman who through marriage has become Pakistan’s first lady is clear in her views: she is not interested in being known for the clothes she wears, the brands she endorses, the way she looks. If what appears odd to many people is a choice that is not affecting anyone else in an adverse manner, how is that a matter of so much malicious discussion and vile trashing is nothing but baffling to all decent and rational people.

You read comments about Mrs Khan by those who claim — the word claim is the difference between them and the real liberals, feminists and human rights activists — to be liberal, a feminist or a human rights activist, and all you can do is shake your head. The attacks are ad hominem. The criticism is gratuitous in its vulgar propelling of a linear attack. What is happening here is not any personal opposition to someone’s choice to cover or bare, it is about pushing of a political agenda to show the international community of Pakistan watchers and observers how Pakistan is ruled by a regressive, backward thinking Imran Khan accompanied by his fully veiled wife. The one-sided discourse is not about the views of Mr and Mrs Khan; the relentless propaganda is merely a blatant attempt to push the narrative of how Taliban-esque Pakistan is under Imran Khan.

A stay-at-home wife, whatever her choice of attire, shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion, but as long as her married name is Khan, it is a safe assumption that she will be targeted. It happened to Jemima Goldsmith, to Reham Khan, and now to Bushra Khan. The unhealthy obsession with Imran Khan’s personal life has reached a level of disproportionate maliciousness and mind-boggling redundancy now when at 66 he is the prime minister, and the main political parties, PML-N and PPP, are out of power in the Centre and Punjab. Criticism, a fundamental right in any dynamic democracy, has ceased to be issue-based, constructive, healthy and productive. Criticism has shrunk to how much of a veil is too much.

To me it is very simple: I respect freedom of choice. Deeply familiar with the institutionalised ways and effects of patriarchy and misuse of religious injunctions to suit a system of male dominance, I respect a paradigm an individual draws for his/her personal conduct. I do not endorse or condone a full-body-face veil, but I will support Mrs Bushra Khan’s right to wear her full veil as strongly as I believe in any other thing I hold important. As long as her personal choices, her belief system and her views do not affect policies and work of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and do not have a negative or regressive influence on his governmental decisions, I have nothing to say about the way she covers herself, or how she prays, or what she does within the four walls of her home — be it at the Prime Minister House or Khans’ Bani Gala home.

To each her own. It is my right to be what I decide to be, answerable to my God, my humanity, my conscience and my few loved ones. This right is the result of my lifelong battle with an ethos of patriarchy, misogyny, woman-are-second-class citizens, and I will protect this right for as long as I am alive. I wait for the day when this bitterly-fought right will become a given.

Mrs Bushra Khan has the right to be the person she wishes to be, and be veiled the way she wishes to be. And no one, other than her, can take that right away from her. Period.

Also Read: Corruption, cronyism, nepotism: What's ‘Naya’ in Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan?

Writer

Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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