PUNE, India – Muslim women wearing the head-to-toe Islamic robe, or burqa, could be banned from shopping at jewelry stores in this western Indian city after a series of thefts carried out by burqa-clad robbers, jewelers said Thursday.
The Pune Jewelers Association has applied to police for permission to bar people who cover their faces from their stores, said association president Fattechand Ranka.
Ranka said the move comes after closed circuit cameras in stores showed that three recent thefts, each of jewelry valued at more than $8,500, were carried out by customers wearing burqas.
"Because of the burqa the police could not identify their faces," he said.
Ranka said his move was not aimed at Muslims, who are a minority in Pune in Maharashtra state, but would target anyone who refused to show their faces to the security cameras. Many Hindu women in India also wear veils.
"Anyone could be masquerading under a burqa, even a man," he said.
Ranka said he had sent a letter to Maharashtra's police chief but that he had not yet received a response.
However, Pune police commissioner D. N. Jadhav said police would not allow the ban fearing it could spark tensions with the Muslim community.
"If they are really concerned about security, they can appoint saleswomen and women security guards in their shops," Jadhav said.
Reaction among the Muslim community was mixed.
Naseem Siqqiqui, the head of the Maharashtra Minority Commission, said a ban would fuel further discrimination against Muslim women and that women should be allowed to choose what they wear.
However, Maulana Zaheer Abbas Rizvi, the secretary of the All India Ulama Council, said jewelers are entitled to protect their livelihoods.
"They do not seem to be against any religion but are acting on purely business interests," he told the Times of India newspaper.
Pune is some 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment hub and the state capital.