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Poll dress diktat for Kerala Muslim women

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  • Published 19.09.10

New Delhi, Sept. 18: The Indian Union Muslim League has asked women contesting local body elections in Kerala to “dress according to Islamic norms”, though it stopped short of spelling out the word burqa.

The decision to enforce the dress code came at an executive meeting of the party unit in the southern state, where many women have of late taken to wearing the burqa in a change from tradition.

The code, issued at the recent meeting in Kozhikode, is part of a set of guidelines that included suggestions on how women candidates should behave in public, participate in demonstrations and interact with men while campaigning for the polls due next month.

Women, the guidelines say, should maintain decorum and sit on stages in a way expected of “normal Muslim women”. They should also exercise self-control while interacting with men.

Although the dress guideline doesn’t spell out that the women candidates should wear burqa, it is clear that they are expected to. “They should dress according to Islamic norms,” says the guideline issued by the state executive.

Wearing burqa has never been part of Kerala’s Islamic tradition, but more and more women have been doing so, especially after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

“Burqa is alien to Kerala Muslims and the new trend is part of a growing pan-Islamic tendency after 1992,” said Sulaiman Ahmed, an Islamic scholar.

The IUML, which has always claimed to be a secular party, insisted the code was aimed at maintaining “religious discipline”.

Party state secretary K.N.A. Qader said the code shouldn’t come in the way of “contesting and carrying out the duties” of a representative. “Muslim women are present widely at campuses and workplaces but that should not stop them from following religious orders,” said the advocate.

Asked if the dress code wouldn’t hamper individual freedom, Qader said it was only to ensure that they followed their “faith and rites”.

“There is no question of right and wrong in the secular party forming a religious code of conduct,” he added. “They (women) would be following religious orders and it will also be ensured that women entering politics will not affect the family set-up adversely.”

Asked why there was no dress code for men, the IUML leader said the party was planning one but refused to elaborate.

Sources said the Muslim Women’s League, the women’s wing of the IUML, had opposed the code but was left with no choice but to obey the “elders”.

“It is sad that a comparatively progressive Muslim political party like the IUML is doing this. These steps would provide fodder to fanatical elements in the society,” said a Muslim Women’s League member.

The member, a former councillor, cited the case of a woman who has sought police protection as fanatics have threatened to kill her for wearing jeans and refusing to wear a burqa.

IUML members countered, saying if the party was “orthodox”, it wouldn’t have allowed women to enter politics. “There are many in our society who feel that women entering politics is haraam (un-Islamic),” Qader said.

The League, however, had no option but to field women because 50 per cent seats have been reserved for women. The IUML, which has never had any woman representative in the Assembly, had even tapped other parties for a seat-swap deal under which constituencies reserved for women would be exchanged with general wards. Having failed to strike the deal, it had no choice but to field women.