Police and women’s groups in Kashmir were alarmed after notices were pinned to mosques in Shopian district, claiming to be posted on behalf of two previously unknown militant groups.
“We appeal to the public that they ensure that their women observe purdah [cover their heads and faces] in public places. If we spot any woman without purdah we will sprinkle acid on her face. If we spot any girl using mobile phone, she will be shot dead,” said the note, which was signed by al-Qaeda Mujahideen and referred to another group, Lashkar e al-Qaeda.
There’s something that bugs me about this reporting, aside from the horribleness of acid attacks.
Dean Nelson at the Telegraph parenthetically describes purdah as the requirement that women cover their heads and faces.
According to Bina Shah guest-posting with Taslima Nasreen, purdah is considerably worse than that:
As a child in Pakistan, I grew up observing the lives of the women in my father’s family. Members of a type of religious nobility who claim lineage from the Prophet Muhammed, they followed the traditions of the Prophet’s wives and segregated themselves from all men outside their own blood relatives – a system known in Pakistan as pardah or “curtain”. They wore burqas or chadors when travelling outside their houses, in cars with curtained or tinted windows. On the rare occasions they walked in the streets of the village the men were expected to turn their faces to the walls as they passed. They did not go to school and many of them were functionally illiterate. There was no question of school or jobs for them. Their sole function was to marry and produce children for their husbands, chosen for them from the many cousins in the family.
The “curtain” in purdah doesn’t only mean that women keep their faces covered when they go outside. It means they rarely go outside. If the men in the village are expected to turn their faces to the walls as the women passed, then the community naturally expects that women will not inconvenience men by showing themselves in public very often. Purdah means that women are kept behind closed doors as much as possible; they have no lives outside of their home.
So, when the Mujahideen threaten to apply acid to any woman not observing purdah, I don’t think they mean women can do whatever the heck they want as long as they’re sufficiently covered up. It means they’re telling women to quit their jobs, drop out of school, and basically have no social life outside of the family unit. Unless the al-Qaeda forces in Kashmir have a much more liberal definition of purdah, this goes well beyond enforcing the burqa.
With this in mind, it’s merely a logic extension of their thinking to decide that girls using mobile phones can be shot on sight. If girls can use mobile phones, they might start thinking they can associate with just anyone and go places they like.
In Fait Accompli, there’s a subset of women in the Broken Generation who don’t enjoy the same freedoms as women like Claudia Bowen and Tasha Morgan. They’re the girls whose families (who, incidentally, include a wide range of religious backgrounds) keep them inside pretty much all the time until they’re married, and those marriages are invariably arranged without the slightest consultation with the girls. Tasha calls these women “the Invisibles.” This is how Nadia grew up. She’s a rarity in that she got out.
In Charlinder’s Walk, Gentiola briefly refers to cultures that make women into “family servants, or invalids, or controlled substances.” This is the kind of cultural environment she means by “controlled substances.” Lashkar e al-Qaeda is clearly not asking women to keep themselves hidden out of concern for their safety; otherwise, they would not be threatening to disfigure them with acid. No, they view women as a corrosive, dangerous presence that needs to be kept under lock and key. They can’t be wiped out entirely, for obvious reasons, but they can theoretically be controlled so thoroughly that their presence doesn’t affect the integrity of men.