Sri Lanka’s ban on face veils in the aftermath of the deadly Easter attack needlessly drew the burkha, a form of attire worn mostly by Muslim women, into the spotlight of suspicion in the context of terror. Since then, the Muslim Educational Society in Kerala has barred students of institutions under it from wearing it. Some years ago, France outlawed the garment. The reasons cited differ: the need of facial recognition for public security in the first case, a push for social integration in the second, and a rejection of religious markers in the third. The full veil also attracts flak from feminists who see gender injustice in it. Yet, ironically, such a ban violates the individual freedom to dress and express oneself how one wants to.

Women’s rights are indeed a worthy debate, but the association of any clothing, no matter how conservative, with terrorism reeks of prejudice. Worn by millions of law-abiding people, the veil deserves no stigma. Liberal arguments should not be used to cloak what amounts to profiling-by-faith, for it could worsen various forms of discrimination. Also, while some women think of the veil as an oppressive imposition by men, it’s also true that many adopt it by their own volition. This could be for reasons as varied as a fashion preference, a need to retain a measure of privacy in public, a belief in physical modesty and even an ideology of sex-appeal-equality that served as a justification for full veils worn by all women in olden days. Whatever be the case, it should be up to individuals to make up their minds. A modern society offers everyone choice. The days of enforced dress codes are long gone.

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