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In Hinduism women cover their head and face with the part of their garment

Covering their head and face is an integral part of the Indian traditional dress code. Pardah or purdah pratha is a religious and social practice where women are secluded from the communities both within Hinduism and Islam. Researchers say that this started to protect women from aggressors' eyes. The roots of the Purdah system can be traced in the Persian culture which was later adopted by Muslims in the 7th century AD. When the Mughals invaded India they brought the Purdah system to India with them in the 19th century, and it was later adopted by the Hindu community in India.

In literal terms, Purdah translates to the curtain which physically segregates women from men, and as a physical expression, it is adopted as burqa (a veil made out of garment to cover women's all body parts including hair and face) and ghoonghat (in Hinduism women cover their head and face with the part of their garment). Hinduism views the practice as the means to safeguard women from other men whereas Islam created the practice to enforce supremacy over women. Customs like these have existed in India's patriarchal society proving the systematic lens to view women as weaker gender in the public and private spheres.


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The Hindu Ghoonghat

The Rajputs were one the most dominant groups who strictly believed in the purdah system and brought it to the Indian mainland during their conquest. The practice attached emotional value to it and directly translated to laaj (a women's pride). The newly married women were to cover her head with pallu in the presence of her husband or her in-laws. The strong association of ghooghant with the honor of family and feminine code of modesty are upheld to date.

The purdah system became an integral part of Rajasthan's feudal etiquette as an effort to mirror the ruling class. Therefore, the practice came to be followed in the dominant communities in India. A Muslim girl needs to follow the purdah when she reaches puberty whereas in Hinduism is ghooghat is introduced in a women's life upon marriage.

While the ghooghat system is strictly followed in many parts in the Northern belt including Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kashmir, Himanchal Pradesh; there is no mention of the purdah system in the Southern parts of India.

Married woman Married women were to cover her head with pallu in the presence of her husband or her in-lawsUnsplash

ALSO READ: Rabari Womenfolk: Victim of Patriarchy and Poverty

The small garment that covers women's faces, restricting them from expressing themselves, not being recognized in a public space holds patriarchy. This system defines the tasks of men and women where women are supposed to take upon household tasks whereas men step out to work in public. We need to be mindful if it is a practice that is followed and implemented as a form of oppression, protection, or empowerment, or voluntarily through generations to understand who gets the say in what a woman wears and chooses to carry herself.

Keywords: Purdah, ghooghat, Mughal, Rajput, empowerment, women, feminism, etiquettes, patriarchy


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