Dhaka, Sep 18 (IANS) — In schools, colleges, shopping districts and hang out joints, women of all ages can be seen covering their faces — and some even their whole bodies — with veils.
Manufacturers and sellers of veils say the demand for these has doubled over the past five years, and increasingly younger women are the buyers.
In Muslim majority Bangladesh with a population of 130 million, the increase in veil usage is attributed to many reasons — ranging from religion to a fashion statement, and at times, even a disguise for criminals.
A police official said several criminals covered themselves from head to toe in veils to help them inch closer to their targets without arousing suspicion.
Schoolteacher Badrunessa Haider told IANS: “I wear a full length veil because of my religion. According to Islam, every woman should conceal herself.”
She said an increase in the number of veil users also reflected the fact that more women from conservative families had begun working in Bangladesh.
Adolescent Lipi Quamrun Nahar Khan, who stays in Mirpur district, said that since three-wheeler paddle rickshaws were not allowed in her area, she had to use the bus to go to school and hence she had taken to wearing a veil.
“I have begun wearing full-length veils regularly to avoid the evil eyes of men. I feel safe and free within the veil. My family hasn’t asked me to do this.”
Management student Alia Mustrai put forth a slightly different reason for more people wearing veils.
“The invasion of ‘veil fashion’ is the result of satellite television. Women in Bangladesh may have been drawn to veils after watching women in Afghanistan and Iraq clad in them when TV showed U.S. invasions there.”
Many conservative Muslim families do insist on veils.
Raunak Jahan, a newly wed woman in Rajshahi district, said she even attended an interview in a school wearing a veil because her in-laws asked her to do so.
Veil seller Abdur Rahim here said women in the 15-25 age group mainly asked for fashionable facial screens. He said around 25 percent of his customers used veils as fashion accessories and 10 percent for safety. The older women wanted black veils but the younger ones opted for light colours.
Shamsuddin Ahmed, a veil seller at the Patuatuly wholesale market here, said only three shops used to sell veils in 1975. Today there are 22.
Ramendra Chandra Saha, owner of the Bengal Veil Sellers shop at Patuatuly, said 10 percent of his customers wanted veils to protect themselves from roving eyes, 25 percent for fashion and the rest for religious reasons.
The districts of Satkhira, Khulna, Noakhali and Barisal, considered strongholds of Islamic parties, are also places that see the largest number of veil sales.
Social scientist Rangalal Sen said religious fervour was on the rise among Bangladeshis.
“The increasing use of veils is one of its manifestations,” he said.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.