Tamil Nadu BJP leader Pon Radhakrishnan has been slammed for seeking a ban on covering of faces. The former Union Minister called on the state government to take steps in this regard on Monday, just like Sri Lanka had in the aftermath of April 2019 Easter bombings that killed 259 people in deadly blasts in the island nation. The Minister, who frequently claims that Tamil Nadu is a breeding ground for terrorists, has been called out for Islamophobia by political leaders and activists.
Speaking to reporters at the Chennai airport on Monday, he claimed that if the ‘situation continued to worsen’ in Tamil Nadu, the state would also require such measures. He was referring to Sri Lanka’s move to invoke an emergency law to ban face garments that 'hindered identification’ as part of security measures following the Easter bombings. While the niqab and burqa, commonly worn by Muslim women, were not mentioned by name, the law was widely condemned by Muslim and women's rights groups.
Pon Radhakrishnan said, “In Sri Lanka, they blasted the church with bombs. Who blasted it? Who all abetted the bomb blast? Everyone read it in the media. I have heard that the Sri Lankan government has gone to the extent of saying no one can walk hiding their face. If such a situation persists in Tamil Nadu, even here it will come to pass that no one can cover their face and walk. The government should create it. People can't do it.”
Claiming that Islamic terrorists had begun a war, he alleged, “Who covers their face? Is it a woman, a man or third gender? Hindu, Muslim or Christian? Nobody knows. Are you a terrorist or a sincere person, how can we tell? The Tamil Nadu government must think about all this. If this situation continues, it is not good for Tamil Nadu. They have begun a war. We are ready to face it.”
‘Islamophobia won’t work in Tamil Nadu’
Speaking to TNM, writer and DMK’s Rajathi Salma slammed the leader, calling his comments Islamophobic. She says, “Dress is a personal right of each individual. Nobody has the right to say what you can and can’t wear. He has no right to say this. For somebody who has previously occupied a position of responsibility, it is reprehensible that he is making such comments.”
The writer added that this is part of the BJP’s attempt to create an anti-Muslim sentiment in society. “We know their motive, it is against Muslims and particularly, Muslim women. Every time a crime takes place, they blame it on Islamic extremists even when the police rule out a religious angle. They are at a moment in time when they do politics with religion. It is condemnable,” she said, adding that Pon Radhakrishnan’s views would not find acceptance in Tamil Nadu.
‘AIADMK must take action’
Speaking to TNM, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association alleged that the ex-Minister’s comments are part of a ‘series of hate speeches’ by members of the national ruling party.
“The AIADMK government should take action against Pon Radhakrishnan for his comments. It is very significant that on their watch, such hate speech is being given. Public spaces are already unsafe for women but calling for laws like this makes Muslim women in particular even more vulnerable. Prime Minister Modi said you can recognise those indulging in violence by their clothes and now Pon Radhakrishnan is saying this. This is clearly an attempt to stoke communal hatred and violence,” she said, condemning the remarks.
However, Kavita points out that the state government had indulged in similar profiling of Muslim women wearing the burqa in the aftermath of the Coimbatore bomb blasts in 1998.
“It is an attempt to make the Muslim women uncomfortable in public spaces,” she added.
Speaking to TNM, lawyer and human rights activist Sudha Ramalingam said that that it is very clear whom the Minister was targeting with his remarks, despite the fact that women of many faiths cover their face.
Sudha said, “Jains and even Hindus among north Indians cover their face. So it is very clear that their target is Muslims and nobody else. Clothing choice is a personal liberty. People can wear what they want. This (kind of law) is absolutely illogical and unnecessary. There are other ways and gadgets to find out the presence of credible threats.”
“Just because a person covers their face doesn't mean they are a threat or a terrorist,” she said.
The lawyer added, “This is also an invasion of people's privacy.”