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The debate around the burqa (or its variants) is neither new nor confined to India. Almost every multi-religious society has had to deal with it at some point or another. For a topic that has been and still continues to remain contested everywhere from Sweden to Syria, it is unfortunate that the awareness and understanding among people is very limited.

The advocates of #hijab-ban or #burqa-ban are outraged at liberals and feminists defending what they see as an overt symbol of female oppression, and those arguing against such bans point to religious prejudice instead of women emancipation driving such demands. In the cantakerous public discourse, the voices of the actual burqa-clad women remain as concealed as their faces. For one side, they are socially conditioned victims of a centuries old barbaric custom, who need to be rescued by the state. For the other side, they are women who confidently exercise their agency in choosing how they dress, and any state intervention would be the real oppression.

Interestingly, everyone claims to be on the side of #secularism. Those calling for bans, do so in the spirit of equality and uniformity across all religions. And those pushing back do so for the sake of keeping public spaces inclusive of all religions.

From Switzerland to Sri Lanka, Public Pressure, Domestic Politics and Constitutional Constraints, unique to each country, have resulted in them taking very different paths on the question of the Islamic veil. Have any lessons been learnt?

Is it possible to examine the place of the Islamic veil in a modern secular #democracy without the overpowering rhetoric and #political undercurrents that almost always accompany it?

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