If somebody says they find the concept of ghunghat worthy of being ‘appreciated’ what is it that they are finding appreciable? How does a ghunghat make the wearer worthy of being complimented? What changes?
From what I understand, ghunghat is practiced in most of North Indian states. It involves covering of the face, (only by women) with the end of their sari/dupatta. Ghunghat is observed when married Indian women are in their sasural (in laws’ home, village or even city), and also in presence of the in laws, anywhere, like if they visit the woman’s parental home or village (maika).
Not observing ghunghat maybe seen as being disrespectful and shameless.
Frequently, women who observe ghunghat are required to keep their head and face covered in all weather conditions, including while cooking on chulha at 44 degrees Celsius (if there are men around). Also, while traveling, working in fields or during family functions.
Generally women in ghunghat do not sit when those who are considered higher in sasural hierarchy are around, they may not join family discussions; they generally may not talk, sing or laugh in loud voices or do anything to draw ‘undue attention’ to themselves when men or family elders are around. It is considered disrespectful for women (bahu or daughter in law) to address older men directly – obviously they may not look someone in the eye when they do say something, which they generally may not.
Ghunghat is also given as the reason for denying education or work opportunities to married Indian women. It’s ‘in tune with the Indian tradition’.
How do women who observe ghunghat benefit from it?
They become, amongst other things, a good example for other women.
“Look at her. She is an MLA and always wears a ghunghat. She is a regular in the assembly and yet none of us have ever seen her full face.”
What is appreciable about someone’s face not having been seen by others?
Do all the women who observe ghunghat have a choice?
In comparatively modern homes, ghunghat is followed in more liberal forms, some families let women cover only the head (not the face), some married Indian women are expected to wear sari but are allowed leave their heads and faces uncovered.
If a woman is in ghunghat then it is likely that she is also wearing bichia, sindoor and bangles; and generally following other rules meant specifically for daughters in law to observe in their sasural.
Many urban married Indian women are not forced to wear sari, sindoor, mangalsutra, or observe ghunghat (etc). Looking unmarried or living without the restrictions faced by traditional daughters in law does not earn misogynists’ compliments, but it does seem to elicit reactions like this, ‘When married Indian women strive to look unmarried’.
“When I was newly married, I used to wear ghunghat which was more than a feet long over my face,” she said. Deputy Speaker Harvansh Singh, who was in the chair, observed: “That must be appreciated. The concept of ghunghat for women is in tune with the Indian tradition.”
Minister for legislative affairs Narottam Mishra also praised women who wear ‘ghunghat’. The deputy speaker then pointed at MLA from Gadarwara in Narsingpur district, Sadhna Sthapak, and said: “Look at her. She is an MLA and always wears a ghunghat. She is a regular in the assembly and yet none of us have ever seen her full face.”
As Harvansh Singh praised her, Sadhna got up from her seat and bowed graciously to accept the ‘compliment’.