Purdah or pardah (from Persian : پرده, meaning "curtain") is a religious and social practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is also observed by Rajput clans of India and Pakistan as a social practice regardless of religion. More simply, it is the practice of preventing men from seeing women. This takes two forms: physical segregation of the sexes and the requirement that women cover their bodies so as to cover their skin and conceal their form.
Purdah was rigorously observed under the Taliban in Afghanistan, where women had to observe complete purdah at all times when they were in public. Only close male family members and other women were allowed to see them out of purdah. In other societies, purdah is often only practised during certain times of religious significance.
Married Hindu women, in parts of Northern India observe ghoonghat in the presence of older male relations on their husband's side. This custom is not followed by Hindu women elsewhere in India.
Although purdah is commonly associated with Islam, many scholars argue that veiling and secluding women pre-dates Islam; these practices were commonly found among various groups in the Middle East such as Druze, Christian, and Jewish communities. For instance, the burqa existed in Arabia before Islam, and the mobility of upper-class women was restricted in Babylonia, Persian, and Byzantine Empires before the advent of Islam. Historians believe purdah was acquired by the Muslims during the expansion of the Arab Empire into modern-day Iraq in the 7th century C.E.Historians argue that Islam merely added religious significance to already existing local practices of the times.
Historians believe purdah was originally a Persian practice that the Muslims adopted during the Arab conquest of modern-day Iraq in the 7th century C.E. . Later, Muslim rule of northern India during the Mughal Empire influenced the practice of Hinduism, and purdah spread to the Hindu upper classes of northern India. During the British colonialism period in India, purdah observance was widespread and strictly-adhered to among the Muslim minority. In modern times, the practice of veiling and secluding women is still present in mainly Islamic countries and South Asian countries. However, the practice is not monolithic. Purdah takes on different forms and significance depending on the region, time, socioeconomic status, and local culture.