Hijab ban: Multiple Dimensions

The present issue will push Muslim girls back as far as their empowerment through education is concerned

Hijab Controversy

The raging controversy around Hijab is taking disturbing proportions. In Udupi Karnataka Muslim girls alleged that they were denied entry in to the classroom if they wear Hijab. Then we saw the gates of the institute being shut on the hijab wearing girls. Also, we witnessed the shameful-despicable act of the vigilantes wearing saffron turban and shawls obstructing the lone girl Muskan, and aggressively shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. She in turn resorted to ‘Allahu Akbar’ and went on to submit her assignment. The Muslim girls approached the High Court, which has put a stop on saffron shawls and Hijab in the schools in the interim order.

In response many women rights groups and other rights groups have upheld the right of girls to wear hijab and harshly condemned the acts of right wing. Protest is on in support of the Muslim girls wearing hijab. This has also rekindled the communal atmosphere and given a handle to divisive forces. Social media is now full of derogatory comments against hijab wearing girls/women.

This whole episode on one hand shows the forces behind aggressive vigilante groups making merry as their agenda is getting a boost. This has shown the extent to which they can go to frighten the Muslim community. In a way those who have floated apps like Sully Deals and Bulli bai, those who are silent supporters of the sayings of the Dharma Sansads must be having a good laugh as the process of polarisation is getting a boost from this episode. The statement of Mohan Bhagwat that he does not approve of what was said in Dharma Sansad is a mere eye wash. Indresh Kumar of RSS who is guiding Rashtriya Muslim Manch, criticized Muskan, saying that she has done it deliberately to disturb the peace in the region.

We also have seen an atmosphere where the Namaz in public place has been opposed, the intimidating atmosphere is going to the extent that the Genocide expert Gregory Stanton warned that India is on the eighth position in the scale of ten as for as genocide is concerned. This particularly in the aftermath of assertive bringing in of CAA, NRC, whereby the possibility of disenfranchising the Muslims goes up massively. The targeting of Muslim youth in the wake of Delhi riots and anti CAA protests is equally condemnable.

There are some points on which we have to be cautious. The Hindu right wing gets it due provocation from Muslim communalism, extremism. Is there any role of Muslim communalists in this? We need to recall the rise of Campus Front of India, the student front of Popular Front of India, which was involved in attack on Professor Joseph earlier. One will like to understand as to why the existing status quo of girls wearing hijab till schools and removing them in the class was disturbed? On one side the slogans are floating that Hijab is our birth right and the other that country can’t be ruled by Sharia.

Worldwide many debates have taken place around Hijab. When France banned it in public places there were protests but France (Sarkozy) persisted on his decision. As far the latest situation is concerned many Muslim majority countries have also banned Hijab in public, like Kosovo (Since 2008), Azerbaijan (2010), Tunisia 1981 (Partially lifted in 2011) and Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has declared that head cover or Abaya covering full body are not a must for Muslim women. In Indonesia, Malaysia, Bruni, Maldives and Somalia, it is not mandatory. In Iran, Afghanistan and Aceh province of Indonesia it is compulsory by law.

Indian situation has been more complex. While earlier it was prevalent, burqa and hijab started being more in use particularly after the demolition of Babri mosque. Globally America’s agenda of controlling the oil wealth of Gulf region and then bringing forth the propaganda ‘Islamic Terrorism’ not only increased the insecurity of Muslims all over it added to the already existing insecurity of Muslims in India.

Another factor adding to the increased use of Burqa/hijab was the returnees from gulf, when it had mandatory use of these practices. As the insecurity of Muslims in India increased; these practices went up gradually. Currently a number of Muslim parents insist on wearing of hijab/burqa right from an early age for their daughters. This in turn becomes a sort of ‘cultivated choice’ for the girls. They do feel in tune with opinion of society, and stick to it.

It is now a matter of choice for many and that should be respected. If we see the whole picture this choice to some extent is constructed. When 5-7 years old girls are made to adorn these, they will take to it. There are some scholars of Islam who claim that as per Koran it is mandatory for Muslim girls to wear it once they attain puberty. The likes of Asghar Ali Engineer and Zeenat Shaukat Ali tell us that Burqa, Nikab are not mentioned in Koran. Only Hijab is mentioned (Seven times) but its use is for partition not for piece of cloth covering head and neck. Hijab types had been prevalent in many other communities, Christian nuns, Jews and other societies. In India Ghunghat at one time was very prevalent, but its practice is declining.

Surely the cultural construction of these choices for women is in the backdrop of the patriarchal control of women’s bodies. On similar lines after the Roop Kanwar Sati, the then BJP Vice President, Vijaya Raje Scindia had taken a march to Parliament, with the slogan that ‘committing Sati is the right of Hindu women’!

In today’s situation any further raking up issues like this will weaken the attempts of Muslim girls for good education. The present issue will push them back as far as their empowerment through education is concerned. The increasing insecurity is fanning the response of Muslim community. In turn the Court ruling will push back the ongoing process whereby Muslim girls are trying to come up in education. Hindu rightwing is already very strong and extreme Muslim right-wing is playing the role of provoking and strengthening the Hindu right wing. And the victims will be Muslim girls and Muslim community at large. Can we prevent this? 

* Views expressed are the author’s own. Dr. Puniyani is a human rights defender and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay). 

Other pieces by Dr. Puniyani:

Promoting Amity in the Times of Hate

Christian Minorities and Indian Democracy!

Koran, Madrassas and Terrorism

Freedom of Religion and Christian minorities in India



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