Saturday, July 08, 2006

Yet Not

Behind the Burqa

The Burqa dehumanizes women. It is a tool which instantly turns a living, breathing human being into a slave. When the shroud goes over the face of a human being, they are dead to the world. The human being, so enshrouded, can see out through the veil darkly, but no one can see in.

She is windowless, and alone.

(The photograph accompanying this post is the view of a human being from inside the death shroud of a burqa.)

Act International:

"Women you should not step outside your residence. If you go outside the house you should not be like the women who used to go with fashionable clothes wearing much cosmetics and appearing in front of every men before the coming of Islam."
--- Edict (religious decree) announced by the Taliban’s "Religious Police".

Two months back, I was on an assignment in Afghanistan. Defying another Taliban edict - this one banning taking photographs of "any living thing" - I looked for ways to illustrate how three years of drought and 22 years of war had affected the lives of men, women and children in Afghanistan.

In an environment created by the edicts restricting the behaviour of women it was difficult to get a single picture of women. Basically, I had to "steal" such pictures while pretending to be tying my shoelaces, looking the other way or trust my luck in accidental drive–by snapshots from car windows.

In the end, I tried another approach; one I felt more comfortable with. This approach did not force me to try to cheat the women within range of my lenses and, it even appeared truer to my own experience of travelling as a male in Afghanistan.

Over 14 days, I had next to no interaction with Afghani women and saw only three women’s faces directly. As a sort of compensation, I started focusing my lenses on some of the traces of the women I glimpsed or sometimes just missed where ever I went – villages, streets, bazaars, hospitals, clinics or restaurants and mosques.

Traces of the millions of Afghan women concealed by the rules of the Taliban, the cloth of the head to toe long blue Burqa, local traditions and in some cases the 4 to 5 meter high mud brick walls surrounding their own homes.

In the wake of the Taliban rule, women are still forced to wear the Burqa across the Islamic world. Let us be clear, the burqa is not clothing. It is a portable concentration camp.