Women achievers slam Haryana govt for calling ghoonghat the state's 'identity'
For decades, Haryana's women have struggled to fight deep-rooted patriarchy in society and become professional achievers.
And yet, a regressive mindset has held them back. As of 2017, the state has one of the highest rates of female foeticide and lowest in women's literacy. And now, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in seems to want to promote the age-old custom of the ghoonghat (veil), by calling it the state's identity.
In a recent issue of Krishi Samvad, a supplement of the state government's monthly magazine Haryana Samvad, a photograph of a veiled woman carrying cattle feed on her head was carried with the caption: “Ghoonghat ki aan-baan, mhare Haryana ki pehchaan (the pride of the veil is the identity of my Haryana)”.
Instead of taking pride in the daughters of the state who have moved far beyond the veil and become achievers, the state government seems to want to convey the message that pride lies behind the veil.
The advertisement has garnered sharp reactions, especially from the state's women achievers.
Geeta Phogat, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning wrestler, whose feat that inspired the Bollywood blockbuster Dangal, told Catch: “I don't know why such a statement was made by the government, but a woman's identity is certainly not in the ghoonghat. We have struggled so hard to change this mindset among the people of Haryana, and this statement sends a very wrong message.
“A woman's identity is born from what she does in her life, in any field of work. The fact that women are no less than men in anything in the world – that's what we should be promoting, and not that women should be under the veil.”
Geeta's sister Babita, a World Championship medallist wrestler, told Catch: “I can understand that it was the custom of our ancestors, but we can only progress if we break those customs that are regressive for women. Women like Geeta, Sakshi [Malik, Olympic bronze medallist]. I and so many others have only reached these positions because we did not adhere to such customs.
“If the government wants to motivate girls, it should give the example of those who have fought these customs and have brought laurels and pride to the state. This gives a very wrong message – that Haryana is still very backward when it comes to women. On one hand, you talk about 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao', and on the other hand, you want to keep them in the ghoonghat. What does this mean?”
Kamlesh Panchal, former chairperson of the Haryana State Commission for Women, also criticised the government's backward agenda. “Till the time we have regressive thinking men in power, women will not progress in the state. No matter how well women do and what they achieve in their lives at the end of the day, what they want is women to come back home, cook for them, serve them and continue doing what they think women are 'supposed' to do. Patriarchy will never end until men also play a part in eradicating it.”
Leader of the Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, Indian National Lok Dal's Abhay Singh Chautala, was quick to take the opportunity to slam the Manohar Lal Khattar government. “The government should be working for the empowerment of women in the state. Instead of appealing to all to shun the practice of covering their face, the government is promoting regressive thinking,” he told Catch.
However, the state's health, sports and technology minister Anil Vij tried to defend the government against the controversy, clarifying: “It is not mandatory that women should wear a ghoonghat, and we do not propagate that. But it is true that wearing a ghoonghat is a practice in certain places in the state, and to that, nobody should have an objection. We cannot tell women not to wear a ghoonghat either.”