Karnataka hijab row: Much ado about a headscarf?

By | February 7, 2022

I read this on social media: Education should be about what is in the head, not what’s on it.

After all, it’s not about burqa, hijab or ghunghat. It’s about the right to agency. As students protested outside Karnataka colleges today, they were once again denied entry, two months prior to their exams.

As politics of vendetta became the order of the day, the students of RTES College of Education appealed to the principals to ban students wearing hijab on campuses.

As arguments on the issue fly thick and fast, there should be no room for an opinion that supports stealing an education from young girls on completely flimsy grounds.

ALSO READ | Hijab row: Karnataka bans clothes that ‘disturb public order, harmony’ in education institutions

It should appall any right-thinking individual when one’s classmates don’t stand with you; rather, they become pawns in a sinister political plot.

The decision of the Karnataka government to issue a circular that reiterates its earlier position that all government schools should follow the uniform civil code is outrageous and worth condemnation.

When college diaries mention that the girls can wear a scarf as long as it matches the dupatta, where is the dichotomy here? As protests over the hijab ban continued unabated for the second day, male students of the varsities also joined in the protests as a show of solidarity.

Citing law and order issues, the Karnataka government invoked 133(2) of the Karnataka Education Act of 1983 which states that clothes which disturb the equality and integrity and could create law and order problems should not be worn in schools and colleges as it asks colleges to follow uniform dress code.

ALSO READ | Rahul Gandhi reacts on Karnataka hijab row, says robbing future of daughters of India

Which makes us come back to the moot question, are Sikh students banned from wearing turbans? What about other religious markers like tilak, kadas, sindoor, cross, and mangalsutras?

Prejudice should not be looked at with a jaundiced eye.

So, according to the ruling dispensation, hijab might create law and order problems? Nice.

The point the girls are making is that they have always worn the hijab to attend classes for years, so why this government circular now?

Rules and regulations or amendments, if any, are generally done at the beginning of the academic year where adequate time is given for discussion and review by legal teams and civil organisations.

This just reflects the failed law and order situation in Karnataka.

We know that a nation has lost its moorings when right-wing radicals adorn saffron scarves to oppose Muslim women wearing the ‘hijab’.

This is but a chilling reminder of Nazi’s preventing Jewish students from entering the University of Vienna, Austria, in 1938.

The Karnataka Education Act should be within the parameters of the Indian constitution which guarantees the right to practice one’s religion.

Issues like the namaz row in Gurugram and the hijab row in Karnataka are warning signs of society’s corrosion and the extent of the venom that has entered the education space, where classmates refuse to uphold the fundamental right of another batchmate.

ALSO READ | After hijab row in Karnataka, Hindu groups ‘force’ boys to wear saffron shawls in classrooms

Wearing a hijab is a fundamental right guaranteed under articles 14 and 25 of the constitution of India.

Article 25(1) of the constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion. The state shall ensure no interference or obstacle to exercise this freedom.

As deplorable scenes unfolding showing the girls crying, pleading with the authorities not to ruin their future as their exams are just around the corner, It looks like the ruling party in Karnataka has already begun canvassing for the next elections, and there is no better opium than religion.

Saturday witnessed more colleges in Karnataka’s Udupi district imposing the hijab ban citing “government guidelines”.

A little while ago came the news that students wearing hijab were allowed entry into the campus of Government PU College, Kundapara. However, they would be seated in separate classrooms.

If this is the case, the campus must come up with a clarification about this ‘apartheid’.

Does the constitution of India warrant this discrimination by making hijab-wearing students sit in other classrooms?

These are disturbing developments. If I, as a Muslim woman, choose not to wear the ‘hijab’ yet support the women students of Karnataka, it doesn’t imply I am regressive. It denotes that I support ‘free will’ and agency and believe in the constitution of India that guarantees the freedom of religion to all its citizens irrespective of their faith.

‘Hijab’ has never been an issue before in colleges. The girls were quoted as saying, “We don’t know what our crime is, just for wearing a piece of cloth, they are not allowing us to enter the classroom.”

ALSO READ | Karnataka hijab row: CM cites Constitution to defend govt stand, says rules are clear

It is now becoming increasingly clear that the ‘hijab’ row has been orchestrated with the elections in mind. How else does one explain the ‘sudden’ circulars? The students in the colleges where the issue has raised its head have been wearing the hijab all along and it’s never been a bone of contention. And quite evidently the students who stomped outside in saffron scarves have done so overnight; the scarves were all brand new and of the same colour, shape and size. So, it obviously stinks of a central supply.

All it takes is to see through the nefarious designs of a sinister political party hell bent on dividing India on religious grounds.

The girls are adamant that they will not remove the hijab, a symbol of their identity and pride, as they get demonised for upholding their faith. And the dividend ruling regime decides to milk politicals out of this controversy as the world sits and watches from the sidelines the fracturing of a robust, inclusive democracy.

(Saira Shah Halim is a civil rights activist and an educator. All views are personal)

ALSO READ | Three girls enter govt college in Udupi with hijab, students wear saffron shawls in response

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