Indian Politician Rapped for Veil Remark

June 19, 2007

Author: Biswajeet Banerjee

Source: The Washington Post

Wire Service: AP

LUCKNOW, India -- Islamic leaders demanded the ruling coalition withdraw its candidate from India's presidential race on Tuesday after she said Muslim women should stop wearing their headscarves.

Several Muslim leaders called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to find a new candidate for the largely ceremonial post, accusing Pratibha Patil, a Hindu, of insulting Islam by suggesting the headscarf is primitive.

Addressing a conference in the northwestern city of Udaipur over the weekend, Patil said women started wearing the headscarves in India to save themselves from 16th century Muslim invaders, and that it was time to drop [the] practice, Indian newspapers reported.

"Now that women are progressing in every field, we should morally support and encourage them by leaving such practices behind," she said.

Patil, 72, belongs to the moderate Congress party. Parliament and state legislatures choose the president, and the ruling coalition has enough votes to get her elected.

Maulana Khalid Rashid, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said it was God who had asked women to wear a headscarf and that this was enshrined in the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The board is India's highest Muslim authority on personal matters.