The hijab row has been dominating news and politics since the start of 2022. If we do have the right to look into the argument, is it for or against equality?
The controversy took off in Karnataka, PU College Udupi, where six female students were not permitted into the college wearing hijab. In the course, various protests and petitions took place that created strong anarchy among students, parties, and the education system.
The hijab is a religious head covering scarf worn by Muslim women. It is wraps around the face and neck, leaving the face visible. They are worn out of choice and customs. Hijabs are like other religious entities like Sikh’s turban and Hindu ghoonghat. The controversy is round about hijabs being worn to schools, and the elimination of religious garments among educational space.
The perplexity starts when people’s opinions and social media add to the racket. Commanding politics, counter-protests, and strongly opinionated news irrefutably tend to influence us. But is there really a definite stance to this phenomenon?
Let’s look into some aspects to understand the different narratives that exist in this controversy.
What are the Government’s Intentions?
The education minister and related authorities claimed it to be merely to regulate uniformity and discipline in academia. The intentions were to condone that the education institutions are only for education and no religious notions must exist on those premises. Everybody is the same and the only homogeneity in the environment must be education. It apparently does not violate the constitution either.
Sounds fair, doesn’t it? It does feel right to induce that ideology in education institutes. Why bring religions or any socio-economic entities that may distinguish students from each other? I remember when I went to school and if anything in the uniform was out of place, we’d be questioned. Isn’t it fair to not make those exceptions in this case too?
The Freedom of Choice Narrative
An integral part of the controversy is that Muslim girls were not allowed inside campus if they were seen wearing hijabs, which is humiliating. The least that could’ve been done are acts of empathy. In a discussion with friends, I mentioned that girls may feel uncomfortable to suddenly one day remove the hijab, they might have been accustomed to wearing them all this while! Why couldn’t they have brought in this reform earlier?
The change in law was foreign for the girls, even though some places have already banned it. In India, most of the schools have been lenient towards religiously-obligated garments. We have grown up embracing one another’s indignity, although there have been passive apathy among people in some cases of religion, caste, and politics.
At the end of the day, choice of clothing cannot be the sole reason to stop education for those girls, nor condemn them for just following their culture and obligations. So, this counter-hegemony is valid. But just like how wearing hijab is a choice, schools are a choice too. Certain schools will impose rules that all students have to follow, and some schools may not. Nobody would question a Muslim school about wearing hijabs when they have the full prerogative to have their own institutions and practise their own set of rules, just like Christian and Hindu schools.
Accord of Secularity and Diversity
As known, tolerance and co-existence has prospered in India. It is a diverse country with versatile religions, cultures and 121 languages. This is how it started out to be, but is it really going to continue?
In the Lok Sabha, the opposition party cited the controversy and stated that it is a “threat to our diversity.” Even Gandhi ji believed that India is a religious society, and we should practise unity in diversity. Not to mention, movements like Bhakti and Sufi were an ode to India’s integration.
Perhaps the concern is that, bringing rigid uniformity in schools may lead to future generations forgetting their roots and culture. India practices soft secularism, and I think this is one of the few progressive ideologies to exist. Although the rule to ban hijab seems unfair, it is clear cut that they are to be followed only inside educational premises. No one can lay a question outside. So, according to this viewpoint, worrying about diversity is a little far fetched.
How the Public Pivoted
For a second if we omit the government and just look at how the public dealt with this, it’s scary. Counter protests with saffron shawls and students yelling “Jai Shri Ram” and “Allah hu Akbar” to each other, blew up the internet. The way students seized this opportunity to be so aggressive towards each other is saddening.
It was not like they wore saffron shawls before, why the sudden devotion? The law does feel like a sudden impose, but the public made it dramatic. On the other side, at a protest in Karnataka, a Bajrang Dal activist was systematically murdered just because they allegedly had a clash at court six months back. It looks so that opportunists are in favor of this situation to create havoc.
Supposed Political Propaganda
It is obvious that the two parties, Congress and BJP are in perpetual rivalry, and in this case, it’s bound to inflate. Congress seems confused as half of the party wants to support the ban to perhaps seem politically correct and the other half wants to support the opposite mostly to condemn BJP.
Recently, Congress leader Siddaramaiah also stated that, “Abruptly introducing uniform code at the end of the term is BJP’s conspiracy to deny education to the Muslim girls.” Now clearly, this is about political parties gaslighting each other rather than the addressal of the issue.
One point that makes sense is, the schools should have implemented these rules earlier, and not towards the end of the term. The revenue minister of Karnataka also claimed that it is all a conspiracy and by the involvement of Pakistan’s ISI, it has become an international affair. By the density of the political and public drama, it will surely be world news.
Do you think that the assembly must be used to make this a debate between the two parties or must it be used to discuss the tackling of the issue and coming to a cerebral solution?
Hijab may Be Patriarchal, Does it Concern this Case?
Yes, it is okay to wonder if the girls really want to wear the hijabs or burkas or if it is just familial and religious pressure. Many people in India, or for that matter even in other countries see Muslims as a monopoly. They are majorly perceived as extremist and violent. That mentality does come across as Islamophobia.
A recent post by BJP Gujarat initiating a public genocide had people shaken up. It was a picture of Muslim men hanging in the death penalty which was soon deleted but rapidly circulated among social media expressing utter disgust.
Islam is different everywhere. Some practise rigid customs while others are not as traditional. Some believe in wearing hijabs, and some do not. In Saudi Arabia, all women must wear burka since it is a rule. India, US, Australia etc., have been democratic.
In this ball game, is it fair to assume anything if you are not in the position? If it is just about uniform, sticking to that is best and assuming patriarchy and all the interior affairs do not concern the entirety of this controversy. Muslim women would take advantage of this law to be free of hijabs, if it weren’t for their choice. They are well capable of speaking up if that was the case.
Hands Off My Hijab
The movement #handsoffmyhijab was started on social media as a part of the protest on the ban. Muslim women and people who support them post on social media with the hashtag to stand in solidarity.
If you have met different Islamic women, you’d have learnt that for many, hijabs are an obligation. The hijab is worn to feel protected and in devotion to their god.
Regulating uniforms for schools is fair, but with the same followed by everyone and not just minorities. Nothing was said for turbans and bindis, but the first hand was raised against minorities. When it comes to the workplace, in most cases does not need uniformity, the only concern is being informal or inappropriate. If sarees can be seen as “traditional formals” then so can hijabs.
I spoke to my friend, Fazmina Ansari (22, Chennai). She says, “Hijab, turbans or any religious entities do not make or break the rules. I don’t think that a piece of clothing has the power of discrimination. Students make friends based on an individual’s character rather than the religion.”
In a conversation with our Editor-in-Chief Shilpa Ahuja, she quoted that “Yes, I think that private institutions have the right to impose a uniform rule, but that should be uniform to everyone. For example, if hijabs are banned in a school, so should Sikh turbans?”
Though I personally believe that if a school has a uniform, they must be fully adhered to regardless of religious obligations, I resent the concept of publicly humiliating a section or an individual. In this case, it has happened several times. From when the French police made a woman remove her burkini on Nice beach, to schools in India, stopping girls outside the school gates, and many more. These actions have patently convinced minorities that they are being marginalized systematically.
Why does bringing in rules or laws have to directly result in humiliation? Of course, there will be times when the public will retaliate if they do not agree with something. Matters like these must be dealt with by keeping people’s dignity in mind. Though I support the change, the way it was politically driven, the timing and the apathy towards minorities, however seemed bizarre. Hence, the laws were not bad but they were negatively portrayed, in my opinion.
As civilians of society, we can agree to disagree, raise petitions, and express ourselves when we have concerns. But it always ends up in nationwide chaos and protests as the voice of the citizens has mostly been disregarded.
What do you think could be the solution to this ongoing dissension? Is it possible to reach a mutual agreement or is that too much to expect, with all the political brainwashing?