Veil rips mindset mask

Haryana govt proclaims pride in ghoonghat

By Arnab Ganguly
  • Published 29.06.17
The back cover of the Krishi Samvad magazine

1997: Kalpana Chawla, born in Haryana's Karnal, becomes the first woman of Indian origin in space

2010: Geeta Phogat, born in Haryana's Bhiwani, wins the first Commonwealth Gold in wrestling

2015: Saina Nehwal, born in Haryana's Hisar, is crowned world Number One in badminton

2016: Sakshi Malik, born in Haryana's Rohtak, bags the bronze in the Rio Olympics, the first Indian woman wrestler to do so

2017: The Haryana government describes ghoonghat (veil) as the state's identity

Chandigarh, June 28: The photo of a veiled woman carrying fodder on her head with a slogan celebrating the veil as Haryana's "pride" and "identity" has landed the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government in a controversy.

The photo, carried in a state publication, has prompted some women achievers from Haryana and the Opposition to accuse the Khattar administration of pushing regressive ideas on a government platform.

"Ghoonghat ki aan-baan, mhare Haryana ki pehchaan (the pride of the veil is our Haryana's identity)," says the slogan with the photo of the veiled woman in the latest edition of Krishi Samvad, a print and web magazine on agriculture-related news.

Geeta Phogat, who won India's first ever gold medal in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and who along with sister Babita inspired Aamir Khan's Dangal, expressed dismay. "We were born and brought up in a place where girls were kept behind veils, they were not allowed to step out of their homes, go to school. Our father took us out from such an atmosphere and helped us achieve our goals. Haryana is known for the women who have stepped out of the veil, not those who are still bound to it," said Geeta. The blockbuster film based on the siblings has been a big draw abroad too, especially in China.

Anil Vij, a minister in the Khattar government, said he was unaware why the photo had found a place in the magazine. "The practice of ghoonghat is prevalent in some parts but it is not mandatory and we do not force anyone to put on a veil," Vij said.

Women in Haryana have long suffered in the predominantly patriarchal society with honour killings ordered by the khap panchayats and female foeticide common. According to the 2011 census, the state's sex ratio was 834 girls for every 1,000 boys. In March this year, the Khattar government claimed the figure had touched 950 - until an audit revealed misrepresentations and the state ordered a probe.

Leader of the Opposition Abhay Singh Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal said the photo had exposed the Khattar government's double standard. "They tom-tom the achievements under Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (a central scheme launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Haryana) and promote the practice of ghoonghat on the sly. The government should encourage women to step out of their homes and create an atmosphere where they can move freely," said Chautala.

In towns and villages of Haryana, women moving in groups with their faces covered by a veil is a familiar sight. The India Human Development Survey of 2005 revealed that 55 per cent of women in India use the veil, with the face covered fully or partially, mostly in the north.

From early Sanskrit literature to popular cinema, the veil has found a reference in several forms, mostly romanticised in songs - Juhi Chawla, who was born in Haryana, featured in one such song with Aamir from the 1993 film Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke - or to portray strictures imposed by society on women.

"The ghoonghat was not a part of Haryana's culture originally. The practice was started because of fear of foreign invaders. It is undeniably regressive and out of sync with today's times," said Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.