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Imprisoned in the veil of rigidity

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Classrooms are not to be split in the name of religion. But the hijab row in Karnataka has probably done the division as students with hijabs and saffron scarves thronged to the streets in protest. The controversy has crossed the boundaries of the country with an inimical Pakistan summoned the Indian envoy to diplomatically warn and explain him as to how solid is the Islamic Republic’s support for the agitating girls of India. The Taliban and many of its sympathizers have showered admiration for the girls for their courage to bring the agenda to the forefront.

Who wins the controversy by dividing young men and women in the lines of religion in a classroom? Education, a fundamental right of every child, should remain an aspect of learning. But it seems a bunch of radical elements is fanning the issue into flames by surreptitiously playing a puppet show planting girls in veils on the front. We can’t forget interventions made previously by such elements to radicalize the populace which is mostly a patriarchy in essence and nature and function. They were the people who issued a fatwa against Sania Mirza for her playing in skirts. They wanted her to cover her body to look like typical ideal Muslim woman.

The young women protesting in Karnataka said that to be in the hijab is their fundamental right. If that is the case, educational institutions cannot maintain regulations to uphold uniformity among students. To what extent dress in schools and colleges can be a personal choice? And why should there be uniformity among the students? If institutions are unable to maintain a set of rules for their better functioning, would the teaching learning system function the way it should actually do. Interestingly, it is only a small number of students among the minority community seen to be protesting.

The absence of a larger segment of the student population from this agitation should be telling us the nasty plans of some radicalized elements purposefully trying to push the agitating girls on to the roads.   A well-planned movement guided and orchestrated by elements to bring chaos in the society with political interests is seemingly gaining momentum. Are the girls playing a drama out to what has been deliberately scripted for?

Classroom is a mini representation of the diversity of the society. And education, going beyond the pages of the textbooks, demands this mingling of minds, existing amicably together when the outer world is split on religious lines or on any other issue. A teacher, who is also a facilitator, manages to take his students from various backgrounds to work together and help them perfect their efforts to go beyond the dividing ideas and sentiments and build their future. Inclusive nature of a classroom is what gives it a learning environment. Therefore, a teacher can never think in any discriminatory lines.

If the agitators and the one who confronts them are purposefully taken out to the streets to help someone make a political mileage, or a group of radicals playing hide and seek behind the veil, they are going to seriously damage the learning atmosphere of the institutions. What is essentially applicable for any learning atmosphere is to maintain an ambiance of learning together by the teaching community and the learners. Together they have to unpack the order of hypocrisy that exists in a society. But what happens in Karnataka and other parts of India is an example of a trend dangerously raising its ugly hood to disrupt the amiability in the society.

Arguments on how mandatory is hijab in Islam has always been there. To the religious scholars, it is not a personal choice but an obligatory exercise which the religion strictly demands from its women. The December protests started when eight girls tried to enter the school in hijab in Karnataka and they were subsequently stopped by the management. The argument made in defense was probably that the teachers in the institute were males. This argument itself is inflammatory because the education sector has a large number of males employed in it. Should we be doubtful of our male teachers?

What is happening in Karnataka and other parts of India is contradictory to what happened in Afghanistan, where the women who fought against the veil of suppression were brutally killed. Priyanka Vadra’s assertion on what seems to be an inflammatory issue, was tragically irresponsible. For her, the girls of agitating age can wear whatever dress they like. Going to the extent of saying that girls, if wished to go in bikinis to their learning centers, should be allowed to exercise their freedom, was totally cynical and reckless. If the agitation is attempted to be justified in the name of religious identity, being a secular country, cries for recognition of the religious identity in educational institutions will be heard from other religions too. Pujas, festivals and practices of various kinds will step into the campuses and the atmosphere of learning will give way to intimidation on religious identity.

Entry of the Campus Front of India (CFI), the student wing of the Popular Front of India (PFI) into the anger-show is making the intention of the agitation doubtful. Both PFI and CFI are accused for their culpable involvement in anti-national activities. Recently, members of its political arm SDPI were arrested for an ABVP worker’s brutal murder in Kerala’s Kannur. The CFI is reported to have managed to gather hundreds of burqa clad girls in a short time to make the defensive move stronger in Karnataka. This must be probed well before the whole thing turns out to be an ugly mess. Islamic Republics like Saudi Arabia have eased their radical norms which curtailed the rights and freedom of women.

When it comes to the homogeneousness applicable in the dress code of the students, nothing, not even religions, should become an element of interference in the process of education. But the intensity of the radical interventions behind the agitation is clear. The agitating students choosing hijab over education shows how the machinery of radicalization works in a secular country like India. Those who say that hijab is a personal choice should also know the story of the Iranian woman who pitched a lone battle against a radical ruling establishment to free herself from the suffocation of the hijab.

Masih Alinejad was alone when she started her fight against the radicalised patriarchy who suppressed her in the name of religion. Soon she found more women swarming around her to stand for the cause. She had encouraged other women to speak for their freedom. Hijabs are mere symbols of religious extremism taking center stage today. Setting narratives to judge every single act of radicalization and by hiding behind what they call a socio-religious cause, the anti-national elements can attempt to advance towards a total disruption.

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