A photo caption in a Haryana government magazine has described ‘ghoonghat’ (veil) as the “identity of the state”, sparking a controversy with the opposition saying it reflected the “regressive” mindset of the BJP dispensation. However, state ministers Anil Vij and Ram Bilas Sharma dismissed the opposition charge, saying the BJP government has taken a number of steps for women empowerment and was not endorsing that women should be forced to keep a veil. The recent issue of ‘Krishi Samvad’, a supplement of the monthly ‘Haryana Samvad’ magazine, published by the state government, carries a photograph of a woman whose face is covered in a veil. In the picture, the woman is seen carrying cattle feed on her head and the caption reads: “Ghoonghat ki aan-baan, mahra Haryana ki pechchan” (pride of the veil is the identity of my Haryana).
The front cover of the magazine carries the photo of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Reacting sharply to the photo caption, former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said it reflected the regressive attitude of the ruling BJP. “This shows the regressive mindset of the BJP government. Women from Haryana are ahead in every field. Just three days back, a young woman from the state was crowned Miss India. Girls from the state have made a mark in sports arena and other fields. India-born US astronaut late Kalpana Chawla hailed from Haryana,” Hooda said.
Recently, Manushi Chhillar from Haryana was crowned Femina Miss India 2017. “Women wearing veil is not the original culture of Haryana. This practice started only after foreign invasions and because of the fear of invaders. “In south India, there was no ‘purdah’ system. Therefore, what I want to say is that the BJP government wants to move back in time rather than thinking ahead and taking the state forward,” Hooda said.
Surjewala said a “regressive mindset, parochial thought process and objectification of women has become symbolic of the thought process of the BJP and is reflected in the pages of the magazine.” “Does the Khattar government and the BJP even understand that Haryana’s women and girls have been given wings, are aspirational and forward looking. Is this the way we are going to treat Haryana’s women? Wake up from your slumber and stop this ‘Beti Chupao’ (hide daughters) campaign instead of Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao campaign,” he said.
“The BJP government has failed to realise that Haryana girls and women have excelled in fields such as space science, sports and the armed forces, to name just a few. “Are you going to hide the Phogat sisters (wrestlers), Sakshi Malik (wrestler), Saina Nehwal (shuttler), Yashaswani Singh Deswal (shooter)” behind the veil. The government needs to answer this, it is time to stop this regressive mindset,” Surjewala said. Famous wrestler sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat also criticised it.
“I think it will not be right to say that Haryana’s identity is related to its women keeping themselves in veil. I think Haryana is also famous because its women have made their mark in every field. Just 2-3 days back, a young woman from the state was crowned Miss India,” Geeta said. Babita Phogat mentioned Aamir Khan starrer blockbuster ‘Dangal’, based on the life of her father Mahavir Phogat, who defied the pressure of the society and made his daughters wrestlers. “What has been published in this magazine sends out a wrong message. Also, confusing signals will go out as on one hand this government is promoting ‘Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao’ and on the other showing them in veil,” she said.
“If anything has to be promoted in this magazine, it should be the achievements of the girls and women, be it from Haryana or outside. Stories of Kalpana Chawla, P V Sindhu, Sakshi Malik should be told. We should not forget that at the Rio Olympics last year, it was Sindhu and Sakshi who saved the country’s honour,” Babita told PTI. Meanwhile, Vij, dismissing the opposition criticism, told PTI, “What you are seeing in a government magazine should only be seen as what is Haryana’s tradition. Nowhere are we saying that we want to force veil on women. We are in favour of women empowerment and we have done a lot in this regard”.
He said the sex ratio has improved from 862 to 950 as a result of the steps taken by the state government. “We are committed to women’s education and have decided to open colleges for women every 20 km. About the photo in the magazine, this has been the tradition in some parts of the state, but it is not binding. “We are not forcing anyone to wear ‘ghoonghat’. It is not like burqa and only those women who want to put on a veil, it is their wish,” Vij said. Asserting that putting on veil by women has been part of Haryana’s culture, state education minister Ram Bilas Sharma hit out at the opposition saying, “When they find nothing else, they rake up these issues.”
He also said that the government was not forcing anyone to hide behind a veil. Chief Minister M L Khattar’s close aide Jawahar Yadav said, “The picture was published in ‘Haryana Samvad’. It is being investigated how it got published. However, Chief Minister Khattar says that whether be it men or women, they have full freedom in choosing where they go, how they dress or what they eat.”