A ghoonghat is a veil worn by several women, both Hindu and Muslim, in northern India as part of their culture. The ghoonghat is worn to cover both the face and head of women. Think: burqa — except full-faced in order to conceal an individual’s identity from an older male. Similar to how the hijab is worn among non-hijabi women, the ghoonghat is casually used to be worn when attending a religious event, in the presence of respected elders, and weddings.
So why is this particular group of women protesting the traditional headscarf? Similar to many Muslim countries in the Middle East, some areas of northern India have been influenced by the patriarchy to oppress women through a cultural platform. Thus, when the women felt that they were forced to wear the headscarf, it became an oppressive act of injustice as opposed to the respected and empowered origin.
Imagine fearing a woman’s empowerment so much that you feel the need to control her by forcing her to hide her identity under a veil. In the video linked above, an elderly male expresses his disapproval of the movement by questioning, “What will be left of our culture if there is no veil?” Frustrated with having to respect men by being hidden under a veil, a local teacher, Manju Yadav, created the campaign for women against the veil.
While Manju is gaining a lot of attention and support for her protest, it is a reminder to us all, hijabis or not, that covering our heads and bodies is a choice. That is what is empowering about it. We, as women, have a right to choose when we want to wear a veil. This is not to say that Islam, the Middle East, or even parts of India are oppressing women.
Rather, the oppression is rooted from the patriarchal belief instilled within a culture that has been allowed to be carried through tradition. The minute someone forces you to do and wear anything is the minute our rights as humans have been compromised. So, whether Muslim or not, we must stand together in solidarity to (re/un)learn our heritage of veiling.