In a remarkable move, the minister for education in Gujarat, Jitu Vaghani, asked the sarpanch of Rantej village, Meenaba Zala, to remove her veil before the felicitation ceremony at an event.
The minister was attending the launch of annual school enrolment and ‘Kanya Kelavani’ schemes when he politely insisted the sarpanch come out of traditional customs.
Reportedly, the first-ever female sarpanch of the village, Meenaba, was sitting on the floor next to several other veiled female villagers. In contrast, the men were seen seated next to them in a plastic chair.
Upon asking the sarpanch to remove the veil, village men replied, “Women of Rajput caste don’t remove their veil when among other men.” The minister, in reply, said, “What role does the caste play in this? Vaniya, Patel, Darbar, or Brahmin… see how happy these women are now and the blessing they will give you,”
Breaking Gender Stereotypes
The minister said these traditions and customs should be followed at home, not in public. Being a sarpanch, one needs to come out of traditional rituals.
Let the village decide what’s wrong and what’s right. By removing the veil, one will not lose respect, he added.
The minister emphasised breaking gender stereotypes and added that these customs are not unhealthy, but we need to evolve and change with time and should move forward.
Meena, who defeated four male candidates in the sarpanch election six months ago, removed her veil after a village elder agreed with the education minister.
Reportedly, she had the wish to join the police force but couldn’t as her brother and other family members were strict.
She dropped out in the first year of her undergraduate course in Bachelors of Commerce, B.Com.
Upon removing her veil, Meena said, “The minister has rightly said. We must keep our traditional rituals at home and move with the time.” In this remarkable effort of the minister to break gender stereotypes, the villagers lauded and appreciated the move.
Practice Of Veiling In India
According to a study conducted by Lokniti in 2019 under the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and reported by India Today, two out of every five women, irrespective of religion, practice the tradition of covering their face when in public places, in front of the other men or at home.
The practice of veiling is quite prominent in tier-2 and three cities across India. Similar initiatives like Gujarat’s education minister would aid women to come out of traditional customs and move with the time.