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Hijab row- An orchestrated one

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Ex-Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer

Certainly, clothes say something about us to others. The kind of clothes a person wears for a marriage differ from the ones worn for office. Similarly, informal clothes are worn at home. By seeing in gorgeous clothes, anyone would ask you, whether you are going to any party or some special function. Hence, there are norms set for wearing clothes, although informally. Among the clothes that we wear to a marriage, office or other places, we have a freedom of choice i.e. to choose the color combination, size and length. But not in a uniform. The prefix ‘uni-‘indicates ‘one’.

When a group of people wear the same kind of clothes, we call it uniform. Each school has a set of uniform with a specific choice of color, length, width and shape (skirt/tunic etc.) as indicators. Not only schoolchildren but also nurses in hospitals, soldiers/army men that fight for the country, doctors’ white coat, and lawyers’ black coat are all uniforms indicating their professional identity. A patients in bed, in a hospital would call a nurse by seeing her white dress. Because it is identifiable. Can a nurse be in a hijab? No. Many Muslim women, who work, come to the office with a hijab, in the conservative Old City of Hyderabad. Yet, they remove within office and keep it folded in a shelf. Again while going home after the office, they are re-worn. They never wear hijab or head scarf throughout the day.

Karnataka state schools imposed uniform in their Pre-University Courses (PUC) – schools recently. These Educational Institutions are entitled to do so. The students in PUC are in their late-teens. The girl Muskan Khan shown in the video that she be allowed into the school with her hijab, is not a small child. For her hijab is her identity, not the uniform worn inside. The priority is given to the religious identity, not the secular (worldly) identity given by the schools. Primarily, in schools, imposition of uniform is meant for erasing identities like: rich and poor, caste and creed. In the young and impressionable minds, these kind of disparities would hamper studies. They would also bring in individual differences. India is not a theocratic state and at the same time not too secular to iron out all religious marks and identities.

The liberal arguments—‘don’t people wear goonghat (veil over the face) and don’t people wear tilak’? — are rather pointless. It is only in very few pockets of India these practices are persistent. By and large, these practices are rare. In India, Hindus have no rigid dos and don’ts. Of course, many elite Muslim women do not wear hijab. And many Islamic scholars are saying that it is not an intrinsic part of Islam. The rebel-girl Muskan Khan too, it is said, used to wear jeans and top earlier. She has now switched over to hijab. So do many Muslim girls in that particular school in Karnataka. The talk goes that the Popular Front of India (PFI), an extremist Islamic Organization, is radicalizing these girls.

The opposition parties took a stand that these girls be allowed with the ‘hijab’, so that they could get education, which otherwise their parents would not allow. However, the rebellious girls are with voice loud and clear to fight the school’s mandate, don’t they have the equal or louder voice to argue with their parents for their education? This strike— this intransigence on wearing hijab, is orchestrated by the hard line elements in the religion than the genuine desire of the girls. Even if it is genuine, it is an archaic practice, certainly not suitable to the school-level students. To counter- hijab, wearing saffron shawls is only a reactionary one rather than a solution-oriented plan. The video that went viral on social media, teasing the girl is more defeatist.

The Karnataka High Court’s February 10 interim order to restrain students from wearing hijab or any religious attire till the matter is pending with the court has been challenged in the Supreme Court but the apex court deferred till its completion in the High Court. Anyway, the Karnataka High Court’s interim order to continue with the uniform of school till the final order may fall on deaf ears. One should wait and see what the Supreme Court does finally, when it appears there. The S.C., states it would take up the matter at an appropriate time, the apex court emphasized that these issues should not “spread” at the “national level”. This hijab issue opens-up the Pandora-box of secularism in India. Liberals standing up for the Muslim women’s rights of freedom and  the others to have equal counter-rights to them to sport their religious symbols, ends nowhere. The pertinent thing in the whole hijab-row indicates whether to respect the personal laws of minorities, even though they go against secular- laws or to scrap them and face their alienation.

There are G.Os in all state government of offices that give permissions to the Muslim-minorities on all Fridays to leave office at 12.30 to 2.00 pm for prayers (which the Hindus do not have on any day of the week) and on the whole month of Ramzan, they could leave office by 4.30. These were all given with humanitarian consideration. Hypothetically, if special right to wear ‘hijab’ in the classrooms from the school level is granted, if the Indian Constitution is interpreted thus by the legal experts, it would be a strange situation. After seventy-five years of Independence, if the minorities do not join stream, when are they is the question.

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Ex-Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer
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