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Purdah: Separate Worlds and Symbolic Shelter

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2009

Hanna Papanek
University of Chicago


Purdah, meaning curtain, is the word most commonly used for the system of secluding women and enforcing high standards of female modesty in much of South Asia. Purdah is an important part of the life experience of many South Asians, both Muslim and Hindu, and is a central feature of the social systems of the area. The crucial characteristic of the purdah system is its limitation on interaction between women and males outside certain well-defined categories, which differ among Muslims and Hindus. Muslim purdah restrictions do not apply within the immediate kin unit,but only outside it, while Hindu purdah is based on a set of avoidance rules between a woman and her male affines. Muslim seclusion begins at puberty, Hindu seclusion strictly speaking begins with marriage.

Women and Social Controls
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 1973

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