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Union Grant Commission’s NET-JRF examination is one of the most prestigious examinations of this country where thousands of post graduate students appear to qualify for Assistant Professorship and JRF. This month’s NET exam was different in many ways. The exam was organised by NTA instead of CBSE which has been the organising body for many years. Digitalisation was also introduced for the first time.

Shockingly, women candidates were forced to remove their undergarments, jewelry and hijabs  – without prior information and proper arrangements. Shafila Ladhani who appeared for her exam at Fringe Institute of Advanced Studies, Delhi shares how she was forced to remove all her jewelry from 13 piercings just 10 minutes before the exam. Candidates who had traveled all the way from different parts of Delhi were asked to submit their ‘valuables’ which was paid for and still unreliable as the examination center held no responsibility towards it. 

“A rude guard just pulled my ear close to check out the piercings and didn’t ask for my permission. A girl who was getting ‘frisked’ complained that she was uncomfortable the way the woman was touching her. Another girl was asked to remove her bra because it had an underwire. A girl was locked for her religious choice of wearing a hijab and forced to remove it,” Shafila further shares.

It is pertinent to mention that all this gross misconduct happened without prior information or any mention on the admit card. Shafila further shares how the procedure was not uniform and some students were allowed to wear jewelry, scarves, pagdis and boots. The procedure was also not uniform all over India as at many places women were allowed to wear hijab again after checking.

It is pertinent to mention that all this gross misconduct happened without prior information or any mention on the admit card.

Many candidates who appeared for the exam complaint how the photographs they used while applying were in hijab and yet they were not informed about this discriminatory ‘no hijab’ policy of the organising body beforehand. Some did give exam in total discomfort and embarrassment and some chose not to.

On December 20, Umayya Khan who is a student of MBA was not allowed to take exam at Ojas Institute of Management, Rohini Sector-16, Delhi, because of her hijab. Even after repeated requests by her to let her cover her hair after checking  – she wasn’t allowed. Areeba Sundus who appeared for her JRF had similar encounter at Ojas Institute Centre on December 18. “I was not allowed to cover my hair even after getting them checked leaving me into total discomfort and embarrassment,” Areeba says.

Safina Khan Saudgar was yet another victim of this discriminatory procedure when she was not allowed to appear for the exam as she refused to remove her headscarf in Patto EDC complex, Panaji, Goa. “When I reached the inspecting official, he looked at my documents, he looked at me and asked me to remove my head scarf, saying I will not be allowed inside the examination hall with it,” she said. Soudagar said the male supervisor then asked her to show her ears so as to confirm her identity on the photograph. “I eventually agreed to show my ears and asked the officials to direct me to the washroom so that I could re-adjust my hijab. They refused to direct me towards the washroom. Removing hijab in public is against my Islamic belief because there were a lot of men around,” she said.

Also read: We Are All Revolutionaries Here Review: Beyond Stereotyped Discourse Around Pakistani Women And Hijabs

She said the officials then informed her that she would not be allowed to enter the examination hall with her head scarf. “It was a question whether I wanted to take the exam or not. So I chose to keep my faith above the (academic) loss,” The Indian Express reports. Safina also claimed that she had visited the website and read all the rules given on the website, where no dress code rule was mentioned.

Similar incidents took place some years back when AIPMT banned hijab and the matter eventually reached Supreme Court. It is interesting to note that full emphasis was made on the fact that Muslim women by religion are not ‘allowed’ to uncover their hair or wear short sleeves and thus it shall be allowed for them to observe their faith  – which partially makes sense considering the right to religion enshrined in our Constitution particularly where it is essential by the religion to practice something.

But it is unfortunate or rather disrespectful to the women’s agency as the fact that a great number of Muslim women do wear hijab by choice and it’s not a matter of removing hijab for 3 hours for them but a matter of the system forcing us to do what we have chose not to  – is not even considered.

I respect the fact that there are procedures to be followed and everybody does understand this and follow procedures where required  – say airports, but then we have to consider that these exams lack security checking systems of the airports. Wouldn’t it be better if the authorities before imposing some ill-made policy haphazardly and making people victim of the arbitrariness and procedural lacunae  – make the system efficient first? In NEET this year, customary dress was allowed where the candidate had to report at least an hour before the last reporting time in order to be frisked properly. The same could have been followed in NET with proper arrangements and prior information.

Banning hijab altogether by neglecting the better alternative of effective dignified checking and then letting candidates be comfortable is similar to imposing demonetisation without an effective system in place or criminal laws without an efficient police force  – all done in the name of security, procedure or betterment without considering the poor management and worrisome implementation. 

In the wake of the recent lynchings, increasing majoritarianism and communalism – this comes as an open threat to minority and religious rights. There is a line between procedure and arbitrariness
 – the line is undoubtedly crossed. This serves as a glaring example of structural and institutional discrimination where the parallel can be drawn from how African American’s are punished for having an Afro or how European Jews were forced to cease their religious identities or how Sikhs were barred from wearing turban.

It’s not a matter of removing hijab for 3 hours for them but a matter of the system forcing us to do what we have chose not to.

If this subtle culture of hijab ban in India does not seen as a threat to human rights, minority rights, religious rights and women rights then I wonder what will. When the Constitution of India, the grundnorm of this country does not discriminate and enshrines right to practice and profess once religion freely as a fundamental right then on what basis has these bodies  – be it AIPMT, NEET, DSSSB or NTA  – have decided to ban hijab in the exams? In the name of dominant institutional right of management the system must not scrap a women’s right in general and community’s fundamental right to practice religion in particular.

And if they see hijab as a medium to facilitate cheating or undue means then why not have a proper functional checking system and allowing candidates to wear whatever they want afterwards without taking somebody’s religious right or harassing candidates right before the exam. And what remedies is the student left with if it’s the invigilator who is acting arbitrarily? There needs to be some strict and clear guidelines on this matter which can act as a safeguard.

Also read: Why I Choose To Wear Hijab: An Open Letter From A Tired Muslim Feminist

Will the system which has failed to provide employment, quality education, has miserably failed in assuring even basic human rights keep on stopping Muslim women to even appear in higher exams? It would be interesting to see how the government run system takes cognizance of this matter bearing in mind the special attention the ruling government has shown for the targeted issues of Muslim women since it has come to power. This brooding culture of hijab ban in examinations and harassing Muslim women needs to stop!


Featured Image Source: Al Muslim

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