Uploaded on February 12, 2022
Karnataka Hijab Row: A Hindutva Perspective
Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam
The discourse around hijab or headscarf being oppressive is not new. From European to South-Asian countries, all of them have, at some point, made it controversial to an extent to get this piece of clothing banned (France). Many aspects – religion, culture, patriarchy, politics, state machinery, etc. – come into play when we deliberate upon the hijab. Although worn by Muslim women, sadly, it is always men, occupying most of the public space, talking and taking decisions in the matters related to women. But what significance does this piece of clothing hold, you ask? The concept of the veil is there in many religions practiced across the globe but why is it that only Muslim women under scrutiny to defend their choice of clothing? The answer to this is not straight but layered under the socio-cultural identity of Muslim women.
The representation of Muslim women in pop culture has been stereotypical, where the trope of oppressed Muslim women who need saving from their culture and religion benefited men at many levels. The left-liberals and the far-right wingers hardly agree on the same thing but the hijab is the rarest of the rare occasion when they join hands to “lift” and “liberate” these presumedly coerced Muslim women from the shackles of patriarchy and the orthodoxical culture they belong to. There are multiple approaches to the discourse of hijab-wearing, and it is pertinent to understand the nature and intention of controversy surrounding headscarves.
Looking at the Indian context at hand, the Muslim women's identity has been shaped with multiple events – starting with the partition, Gujarat riots, CAA-NRC protests to the online auction through Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai App. Since 2014, the ruling party has made sincere efforts to “save” Muslim women from Muslim men, much like the gambit of saving Black women from Black men adopted by the White men during women’s struggle for equality. Starting with the Triple Talaq to the occasional upsurge in the demand of the Uniform Civil Code, the Hindutva forces have tried to enforce hate and bigotry towards the Muslim community in the pretext of “saving” Muslim women. The lynching on one hand and their savior complex for Muslim women on the other shows the hypocrisy adopted by the Sangh forces. It was not too long when they showed their concern for the denial of fundamental rights of Afghan women by the Taliban, but when it comes to women residing in their own country, their approach takes a 180˚ shift and boils down to derogatory and Islamophobic online auction of Muslim women.
The Karnataka hijab row, where some Muslim students are fighting to take their rightful space in their classrooms of the Udupi Government College. The administration as well as the state machinery have denied access to education to Muslim students in hijab. This outright violation of the fundamental right was backed by the Interim order passed by the Karnataka HC. Until the next hearing, students have been asked to not wear “religious garments” in college. The suspension of fundamental rights can be done only during an emergency – barring a section of society that has already been the victim of the Hindutva violence points to the authoritative status of the country. Instead of looking at the case from the constitutional values and legality, the judiciary has placated the majority sentiments yet again. The discussion on whether a practice is an essential part of Islam and declaring a ban in the absence of it, is a result of prejudiced viewpoints that the judiciary has often undertaken. Some of the examples are the beef ban that decided the consumption of beef is not a necessity in Islam, the land acquisition of Babri Masjid in 1994 that decided that Muslims do not need mosques to pray, and now the hijab row. The Constitution has provisions to safeguard our choice to profess any religion, gives freedom to choose what we want to wear, and promises of unhindered access to education. Not just the Indian Constitution but the UN Human Rights Committee, along with the International law and human rights standards, upholds the freedom to practice religion and dissuade the ban of hijab or burqa.
Recently, Noam Chomsky commented on how the attacks on the marginalized sections of India are turning out to be “lethal” for the democratic principles of the nation. The time to discuss whether the hijab is an essential practice in Islam has passed; we should now contemplate how these events are leading to the justification of autocratic tendencies of the country. There is no denying that our country is consistently preparing for a Hindu Rashtra status.
(The writer is General Secretary, All India Milli Council)