New Delhi: Does the burqa symbolise oppression? And the bikini signify liberation? Giving a different viewpoint, laced with humour, experts at a discussion here spoke about how the two do coexist and will continue to do so.
Going against popular perception that a woman clad in a burqa is forced to do so and is oppressed, Fatima Bhutto, writer and activist from Pakistan, said that in many cases, it`s a woman`s choice to be veiled.
"In Pakistan, more and more women are choosing to keep their heads covered because they want to follow their custom and tradition. They are making a political statement by wearing the hijab or the burqa... the burqa is also a symbol of resistance," Bhutto said at the India Today Conclave in the capital.
"A burqa is not representative of closed-mindedness, but just an alternate viewpoint. An interesting example is the Fulla barbie in the Middle East. She is your typical barbie doll, but wearing a hijab and full sleeved clothes. However, she has a cell phone, a hand bag, a car and a brush. And the tagline is `a girl`s dream doll`," she added.
Bhutto went on to say that it`s "ironical" that most vociferous reaction to the burqa comes from people "who have never worn one".
Talking about the bikini, feminist writer Germaine Greer, said: "Bikini is not a symbol of liberation. In fact I think it`s quite a disfiguring garment. Ninety-nine percent women look dreadful in it and they know that. Females are naturally fat bottomed, but nobody looks so in a burqa!"
Even as her comments drew laughter from the audience, she continued on a more serious note: "You can`t liberate people by force. In Britain, a lot of girls are choosing to wear the burqa. They say that they feel more free within the burqa from the gaze of men. The history behind the wearing of burqa is the same."
The speakers threw a whole lot of questions about the perception of freedom.
"Modernisation should not be about merchandising ourselves. It should be about freedom to have our choices. Liberation is not about removing fabric. In Britain, the Sikh population had to battle it out to wear the turban, now women are fighting a similar fight to wear the hijab," Greer said.
On the burqa ban in France, Bhutto said that instead of liberating women, it will just force women to further go "underground", away from the mainstream.
The speakers capped the discussion with a unanimous conclusion that the burqa and the bikini do coexist and will continue to do so.
"They can coexist but I think both will wither away with time," Greer said.