In the past. heavily curtained palkis were a status symbol of Afghans, Persians, Turkey and Moghals. To spare them from walking, Hindu ladies of noble birth only ever ventured outside of the home carried on a palanquin.
In the hot climate it was considered perfectly proper for woman to dress scantily in the presence of family.
However it was improper for lower caste men admire a princess body. In the hot climate it was common for the ladies to be near nude behind the heavy curtain of the palkis. Why wear heavy public clothing behind a curtain?
Purdah means curtain, a word that in modern media is associated mainly with Islam. It refers to public behaviour. Muslim women are enjoined to draw the “curtain of modesty.”
Historian Samina Quraeshi (Legacy of the Indus – A Discovery of Pakistan: 113) quotes an aging lady to her grandniece “Guard your eyes. When visitors come, smile your eyes of welcome to them; but drop your eyes immediately afterward, so that your smile may not be construed as an unchaste invitations.”
While the Burqa has made news in recent decades – I suggest elsewhere because of the rise of Nationalism expressed in some lands through woman’s dress – it is not the dress of the majority of Muslim women, where “figure-molding looseness” is not unflattering . Quraeshi describes the burqa as a device of anonymity and not modesty.
The burqa “is not the ‘purda’ of modesty enjoined on women.”
So where did the burqa come from? Not from the African yashmaq but rather from princess in palkis. To remain in a palkis could be awkward so women carried their own head to ankle palanquin. The design soon spread to courtiers and scribes.
Now modern wealth mostly discard it, the burqa continues with some in the middle class.
Western critics of the Burqa often fail to realize that todaythe burqa is a political act against perceived political discrimination from the West. In both East and West, women’s bodies have been dressed (or undressed) by the politics of men.