Sri Lankan President's move to ban burqa is a natural, spontaneous – but a bit too impulsive – response to an otherwise extraordinary situation. Shocked by serial bombings that wiped out innocent human lives in the country, Maithripala Sirisena declares covering of face at a public place a `criminal offence'. What normally could have passed as a choice-based dress code has suddenly become a potential threat. Vibes are reaching India as the right wing Hindutva activists demand the ban to be enforced as an immediate security measure. Sounds ironic in a country where cow vigilantes and mob-lynchers can flaunt their tridents without fear but a veiled human face is a terror suspect. Well that is a different scene that deserves a different treatment, but here the issue merits a cool response.
For a change (and for a minute) let's suspend religion andtreat the issue purely on logic. In the matters of faith we are extremelytouchy, but this issue is faith-neutral. Masks mean little in the scheme oflife. A face-showing woman can be as faithful as a faith-hiding one. Our focusis misplaced. What is inconsequential unfortunately for us has become thecentre of our thinking as if our survival depends on it. See the issue fromothers perspective. If we are them and they are us, what will be our response.Though assumptions are hypothetical and can't solve our confusions on theground, but the mere idea of being the other gives us a touch of empathywithout losing our faith. If covering face is really becoming a matter of worryand makes human life vulnerable, it is not necessarily an attack on religionwhich we – sometimes innocently, sometimes ignorantly and sometimesoutrageously – take it to be. In a normal situation it's an assault on ourfundamental right of freedom. (Like some militant liberalists criminalise acertain form of dress in some countries). No state that claims to be trulysecular and democratic can enforce a dress code no matter which community isthe target. But an abnormal situation forces a state to take some abnormalmeasures.
We can resist it on a rational point. Let's widen the scopeof the subject and without being apologetic about a particular choice of dresslet's throw back a question. If the ban on burqa is not a ban on a particularfaith, terror attacks too are not confined to a particular ideology. Theterrorist who gunned down Muslims in New Zealand didn't hide his face, butcarried a backpack. Shall we then ban backpacks? Bombs can be tucked in tunics,robes, gowns, turbans or you can customise a bomb-friendly outfit. So how manythings you ban. When Muntazir Zaidi hurled his boot on the face of Bush, bootsbegan to be seen as secret weapons. But can you make the world walk barefootand punish millions of feet for the offence committed by a single shoe.
In the end the story has two points. Neither can states massban a tradition to address a security problem without caring for other equallyserious issues nor must a community link every enforced measure aself-interpreted attack on faith. Security concerns are public, faith isprivate. Let's follow the Line of Control.