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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 14:56 GMT
India anti-theft burka ban lifted
By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Model wearing gold and diamond jewellery
Gold jewellery is often seen as an investment
Jewellers in the Indian city of Pune have withdrawn their ban on serving women who wear veils over their faces.

The Jewellers Association in Pune - about 170km from Mumbai - introduced the ban this week after a spate of thefts by people wearing veils.

But they told the BBC on Friday that they had been advised by police not to implement the ban for fear of offending people's religious sentiments.

Groups representing Muslims had had a mixed response to the move.

Chairman of Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, Naseem Siddiqui said the decision hurt religious sentiments and should not be accepted by the government.

"The burqa is an integral part of Muslim religion and asking women to not wear it while shopping for jewellery will not be acceptable to the community," he said.

"Tomorrow they will say Sikhs wearing turbans cannot enter the store because they could be hiding a weapon in it."

Women wearing burkas
The ban applied to all face-covering veils
However, activist and general secretary of the Muslims for Secular Democracy group, Javed Anand, told the BBC this was clearly a security concern and not a religious issue.

"There are always some fanatics in every community who will take an extreme view of things.

There is a valid point here and we must see it for what it is."

No arrests

The Jewellers Association said it was not targeting any particular religion but taking an essential security measure.

Head of the Association, Fatehchand Rankha told the BBC they had footage of women stealing jewellery but neither they nor the police could do anything about it because they could not identify their faces.

"The loss was almost one million rupees ($22,650) yet the police could not make any arrests. We could only see their eyes because the veil covered the rest of their faces," he said.

On Friday, Mr Rankha told the BBC that they withdrew the proposed ban because it had hurt people's religious sentiments.

A small shop on average has thousands of dollars worth of stock while a big store could have jewellery worth millions.

There are closed circuit cameras to track customers and private security guards usually stand outside the stores yet robberies take place often.

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