Kashmir women forced to wear burqas


Thousands of frightened Muslim women in India's Kashmir region have fallen into line with an Islamic dress code and donned head-to-toe veils as ordered by the shadowy Muslim rebel group Lashkar-e-Jabar.

The deadline imposed by the group expired yesterday. Unveiled women were disfigured with acid last month to launch the campaign.

Police said they had stepped up patrols and posted plainclothes men at schools and colleges to protect a handful of women who are defying the ultimatum.

"Some women have defied the order, but I have started wearing it today. I cannot take chances," said Ms Mehjabeen Akhtar, a government employee.

Yesterday, the streets of Srinagar city were peppered with women in black robes that covered them from head to toe, with only a small net opening for the eyes.

Tailors in the city were reportedly flooded with orders for "burqas".

The little-known Lashkar-e- Jabar have also ordered women from the minority Hindu and Sikh communities to dress differently so they could be easily identified.

It said Hindu women should wear a traditional bindi or coloured dot on their foreheads and Sikh women should cover their heads with saffron-coloured cloth.

About 100,000 Hindus and about an equal number of Sikhs are estimated to be living in the Kashmir valley - 300,000 fled the region after the revolt against Indian rule broke out in late 1989.