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Purdah boom in Kerala

The conversion of the famous writer and poetess, Kamala Surayya alias Madhavi Kutty, has triggered a new wave in the Malabar area of Kerala which has seen unprecedented prosperity in recent times, thanks to job opportunities in the Gulf. It is a virtual war to attract more and more buyers for new and newer brands of purdah (hijab). A number of such shops named after Surayya have sprung up in several towns of Malabar after the famous author converted to Islam.

Named after Surayya, several ‘Surayya Houses,’ ‘Surayya Purdah Palaces’ and ‘Surayya Purdah Paradises’ have opened in the last four months since Kamala Das, 67, embraced Islam, and commended purdah. Many of the ‘Surayya’ shops are just old wine in new bottle: a marketing strategy by which old shops simply changed their names in order to cash in on the endorsement of the attire by the celebrity writer.

Kamala Surayya had appreciated the dignity and comfort which purdah provides the woman in several interviews she gave to the media after her conversion. She had praised, in particular, the immunity it provides from ogling by men. 

The market of purdah, which was already booming, touched a new high with her newfound love for it. Though as she had told in an interview with The Milli Gazette after her conversion that she wore purdah even before her conversion, her endorsement proved a God-sent opportunity for purdah firms that mushroomed in the Malabar region since the mid-1990s. Sales executives now introduce purdah to a customer as the favourite choice of Surayya.

The most sought after brand of purdah in Kerala, Hoorulyn, which has the biggest share in Kerala’s purdah market, employs innovative advertisements that effectively use Islamic symbols, certain number and recent incidents in the Muslim world.

The young managing director of the company, Razool Ghafoor, says that he linked the purdah to modernity and women’s empowerment to project a ‘traditional but modern image’ of the woman behind the veil. In his early advertisements, he had used newspaper pictures of purdah-clad Iranian women leading marches in the streets of Tehran. Women in purdah, driving cars and operating computers, are some of the images his company projects.

In such a marketing war to dominate and capture the purdah market, Surayya seems to have lent a helping hand with her remarks on the virtues of the purdah.

In Kerala and particularly in the Malabar area of the state purdah is a recent phenomenon. A decade ago or so, a purdah-clad woman was a rare sight on the streets of Malabar area. Now the purdah-clad women can be found everywhere. One can see them in colleges, markets and superbazars. Whether it is Kozikode, Malappuram or Kunnoor, the main districts of the Malabar, or any other area in the state, the purdah-clad women could be found everywhere. 

Observers are unable to pinpoint the reason for the spread of the purdah in such a short time. They attribute it to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent revival of Islam in the southern state. The high pitched marketing battle has also played its part well. The high visibility of the RSS-backed revival of Hindu customs and rituals has had its impact on Muslims. Muslim journals and organizations chipped in by propagating a ‘nice-girls-wear-purdah’ attitude. 

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