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Hijab row: Target on a piece of cloth, instead of focusing on girl education

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On January 1, this year, the headmaster of a Pre-University College (PUC) in Udupi forbade some female Muslim students from attending classes because they were wearing a Hijab that rendered the concept of uniform superfluous. This controversy spread to other educational institutes across the state, where Muslim students start demanding to be allowed to attend schools and colleges wearing burqas. Hindu students organized a protest against burqas in educational institutes and wore saffron shawls and scarves in opposition to burqas across Karnataka.

We see that increasingly more and more young Muslim girls and even small girl children are made to wear the scarf. This did not exist a few decades back. As Muslim women, they need to also question this imposition of Scarf or Hijab which came in with the rise of the Wahabi version of Islam. Educational institutions run by Muslim trusts have institutionalised it by making it a part of the school uniform. If it is really a matter of choice, which we must respect, the early imposition of it from childhood must stop. Let an adult woman decide how much of herself she wants to hide. Muslim parents must also realise how dogmatism in one community becomes a reason for oppression in the hands of majoritarian fundamentalism.

Although the question of social reform in Muslim societies is of utmost importance, the current discrimination in the name of hijab is an outright violation of constitutional principles of equality and justice. India is a secular country. Not secular like France, Secular where everyone has the freedom to profess and propagate their religion as a fundamental right.

Recently Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner got involved in the controversy when she tweeted “ College is forcing us to choose between studies and Hijab”. Communal clashes had been seen in various districts of Karnataka, and its effect is growing all over India. Hope the Supreme Court intervenes in between and all the normal lives resume.

Till today after 75 years of independence, we never had any issue with Hijab, why all of a sudden that too ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election the Hijab row has made headlines? Were they planning for communal riots? Or is this a politically motivated plot? If students can keep nails as long as they want if they can sport Bindi and flowers or their head, why not scarf? Uniforms were introduced in 1985 to bring a sense of oneness among students and to ensure educational institutions don’t become a place to practice one’s religion. But if schools have to follow these rules then sporting all the religious symbols should be banned, without being selective in their attacks.

My request to radical religious scholars of all religions is that they should not use students for spreading their own agenda. Let them study & earn knowledge which will allow them to decide what is good for them & what is not. Please do not impose anything on them. Let the schools be schools. Otherwise, the day isn’t far when people will have to climb on the wheels of aeroplanes to leave the country like what has happened in our neighbouring country recently.

Hijab and Rudraksha shouldn’t be a topic of debate among students. They must debate topics related to academic excellence. This protest is also going on in many other countries including Singapore & France. Muslim women want to wear Hijab and Burqa but those governments have banned them, especially at workplaces.

You may say that Hijab is misogynistic and that the woman wearing it is doing so because of pressure from her community and family. Yes, that may be true, but still, many girls wear it as they want to follow their religion: out of their own will. There are Muslims who don’t wear Hijab as well. And all religious practices are taught first by society, but if one wants to keep following them, let them do so. Sometimes maybe out of compulsion, but that is not the point here… because we will never know who is forced to do so and who is not, just like conversions. If forced, she must not wear it against her wishes. We can respect her choice, as long as it does not stop her from interacting with her peers and teachers. Now will banning hijab help a Muslim woman in getting educated, or be empowered? Now those who are wearing hijab are made to stay out of classes, in fact, schools are stopping them from getting an education, just because they wear Hijab. Also, orthodox families will stop sending their girls to schools, if they don’t wear a hijab.

And now, protesting with saffron shawls is the most senseless thing to do. It is being done on purpose by the other religious extremists. When you say Hijab is banned, how sensible is it to wear new religious symbols? Instead, develop scientific temper in schools. Teach the students all the positive and negative sides of religion, and why slavery, racism, caste system are bad, teach them about discrimination and how it has affected us and stopped us from progressing. How patriarchy has stopped women from being educated and independent. Unless it does not harm other students, there is nothing wrong with wearing Hijab or any other religious symbols. Many argued that Hijab should not be worn, which is similar to saying you must wear Hijab: both are the extreme ends of restriction of choice. Whether we force them to wear it or force them not to wear it, both are restrictions of choice and lack of respect for the diversity that exists in India.

Both are dictatorships. In a secular state, we must allow all people to practice their religion, even though we may not believe in the same. Let them wear Hijab, if they want to, education will make them reconsider these religious practices and they will give up wearing Hijab on their own, upon liberation. Rather than targeting a piece of cloth, focusing on the larger objectives like girl education and women empowerment will help.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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