Persistence of a Custom: Cultural Centrality of Ghunghat
The rural ethos of work presents a contradictory visual image of women in Haryana: full participation of women in the dominant economic activities albeit in a ghunghat (veil). This dual image signifies a dual reality which serves patriarchal needs. On one hand, it retains women as full working partners of men, showing the genuine seclusion of women to be clearly uneconomical; on the other, the retention of ghunghat, refashioned to accommodate their intensive work involvement, imposes efficacious constraints upon women leaving them ineffective in all crucial spheres. Ghunghat effects the most cogent control on married women which extends from their private and public conduct in purely domestic and familial sphere to the outside social and political structures of the wider village community.1 These constraints impose social distance and patterns of avoidance which regulate the behaviour and limit the interaction of women with those who control economic resources, wield power and make decisions inside and outside the house, especially the senior males and some of the senior females. This paper seeks to analyse the persistence of the custom of ghunghat and the wider factors operating behind its reinforcement and inordinate acceptance specially in the rapidly changing social milieu of post-colonial Haryana. Ghunghat emerges as an outward symbol of patriarchal control which has retained its hold over women despite dramatic internal politico-legal and socio-economic shifts, and in fact as a result of those shifts.
This analysis highlights women in ghunghat as being central to what is projected as the 'dehati (rural) culture'. It investigates how and why the veiled woman, with the attendant ideology of plain living and austere eating is perceived by the rural people as the sole custodian of their culture. The stripping away of this veil is imagined as leading to the collapse of the entire rural social fabric. This rural culture is necessarily seen as opposed to the 'other' of 'urban culture', which attracts all the pejorative epithets with urban women as its symbolic target. In the wake of the green revolution prosperity, the
Miranda House, University of Delhi, Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 9-11, September-November 1993