Head-scarf ‘barrier’ between Doctors & Patients: Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital

Islamophobia is on a rise in India, in not only smaller towns and cities but also the so called diverse and cosmopolitan cities such as Mumbai.

When Afsana*, a well-qualified dietician, approached Nanavati Hospital for a permanent job, she came face to face with the acute shock of being denied the job on the basis of her attire-more specifically, her head-scarf.

Earlier, Afsana had completed an internship with the Diet department at the reputed Nanavati Hospital in Vile Parle(W). She was later offered a job based on her performance. The Hospital authorities assured her that they wanted to recruit her as permanent staff. However, when on March 7, 2018 she approached the hospital, the Human Resources department in-charge asked her, “Can you remove your head scarf when you join us?” Afsana retorted saying it would not be possible. The Department In-charge said that she will have to discuss it with the Department head. When she came back, she informed Afsana, “Actually, we can’t allow a person who wears a head scarf, as our permanent staff. With interns, it’s okay. But if a permanent staff wears a head scarf, it creates a ‘barrier’ between the patient and the doctor” Afsana was stunned at such a response. “When we were studying, we were not discriminated like this. But today, all my friends are getting good jobs and I have been denied one because of the head scarf. How fair is that?”

Afsana feels that this isn’t limited to just Nanavati Hospital, this is becoming a general trend to deny Muslims youths jobs because of the way they dress. “Should our qualification matter or the head scarf?” she asks. Pointing out at the fact that this was clearly stemming from individual stigma and stereotyping, she noted, “Obviously these are not rules written in their code of conduct, nor will they ever give me any written statement confirming the same. This so-called “barrier” does not exist when the respected Sikh Community observes their ethnic symbols while working in Hospitals.” Afsana highlighted that her headscarf doesn’t violate hygiene, safety, security, nor any other norm of the Hospital, except for the ‘prejudice’ which has judged her for her religious values, rather than her professional capabilities.
In a similar incident, Nedal Zoya, a Masters in Social work from Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) was denied a job at one orphanage in Delhi in November 2017, on the basis that her head scarf “will make her look like a Muslim from even a distance of a kilometre.” Nedal had applied for a vacancy floated by the Orphanage for girls in Kotla Mubarakpur. She was asked for an online test as well as her photographs. Later she received a mail in which the president Harish Varma said, “I am sorry to inform that from even a distance of one kilometer you look like a Muslim lady due to your external Muslim gears”.
Multiple attempts to reach out to the authorities at Nanavati Hospital, both Diet and HR Departments, failed. The call was disconnected in between.
Afsana says she will apply for more jobs elsewhere. But isn’t this a sad state of affairs, in which recruiters are discriminating against Muslim youth in India today?
*Name has been changed to protect identity

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