Mere libaas par ungli utha kar mujhe nicha dikha rahe hai,

Zamana jahaliyat toh dekho,

Kehte hai mere haq mei awaz utha rahe hai

Muslim women have always acquired a space in contemporary Indian political discourse. The need to talk about her has been imperative with the changing needs of time. However it does not stop there. From talking about her, to talking for her, the Indian political scenario has diverged into a form of dialogue where the Muslim women is present and absent at the very same time. From being auctioned online to being denied entry into colleges for wearing the hijab, it all brings us to one simple fact — that there exists a problem. Somewhere something is failing terribly. Is it our ideals on secularism? Is it the dire need for these women to assert their identity? Or is it that Islamophobia has anticipated Muslims to be ‘potential threats’ to social well-being?

The issue clearly cannot be deciphered at face value, the problem is way more layered and has several faces, but what essentially remains is the fact that these women clad in hijab are ‘easy targets’ even in what has conventionally been the most secure of all places — a classroom.

Also read: ‘Bulli Bai’ And The Gendered Layers Of The Objectification Of Muslim Women

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In recent events in Karnataka, not one but several colleges have denied women wearing hijab from continuing education for the simple reason that the hijab does not abide by the uniform of the institution. The pertinent question that arises is, why now? How come the hijab per se has come to induce a sense of unease in educational settings when they have been tolerated if not accepted before? If one keeps the role of fundamental rights aside for a moment, the answer to this is pretty simple. It is true that institutions do have regulations that need to be abided by the students but if the hijab is banned in these colleges then would they also do away with the bindi and other forms of religious symbols like the cross, janeu, etc. under the garb of secularism?

As per the statistics published by Pew, 84% of Hindu women (from the age of 18-25) wear a bindi in public places, and around 58% of Sikhs (from the age of 18-25) wear the turban and nearly 87% of Muslim women (from the age of 18-25) wear the burqa (which includes hijab and niqab) outside their homes. The debate regarding this controversy takes a stance where the expectation that religion is to be left at home is influenced by a French model of secularism that finds no place in how our constitutionalists have defined the Indian brand of secularism. Another stance that exists is the view that these Muslim women are being ‘forced’ to wear the hijab. This is a weak accusation. How are two-thirds of the total Muslim women population in India which amount to roughly 180 million Muslim women being made to wear something they do not want to wear? These are apparent elements in the discussion of the controversy that is being stemmed now and then and should acquire no relevance in political debate whatsoever. 

The debate regarding this controversy takes a stance where the expectation that religion is to be left at home is influenced by a French model of secularism that finds no place in how our constitutionalists have defined the Indian brand of secularism. Another stance that exists is the view that these Muslim women are being ‘forced’ to wear the hijab. This is a weak accusation. How are two-thirds of the total Muslim women population in India which amount to roughly 180 million Muslim women being made to wear something they do not want to wear?

Hence what must remain as the main element in discussing this controversy is what exactly has to be done to bring it to an end. On paper at least, Indian secularism would never ask its citizens to keep their religious identity under lock and key at home. The Constitution has allowed its proliferation as long as it did not harm fellow sentiments. 

As far as the piece of cloth on a Muslim woman’s head is concerned, the affinity to an identity makes the picture of hijabi women in classrooms a dull scenario to many. To simply imply, the need to do away with whatever symbolizes religious affiliation is somewhat inconsequential and confusing. The instant reaction to the situation in Karnataka’s colleges bought certain shadowed groups of Hindu youths to appear the very next day with saffron scarfs around their neck, coupled with the hosting of the saffron flag in the college campus implies that these are simply speaking ‘reactions’ and ‘counter reaction’ to those supporting the cause of the women in Hijab. Herein, India’s secularism, that aims to be equi-distant of all religions, transforms to an ‘anti-religion’ perspective in a classroom and proves that our political debate itself is arising from the inability to apprehend what we imply by religiosity, secularism, tolerance and most importantly by ethical representation. 

The implications of such persistent persecution of Muslims are evidently wide and large. If a Muslim woman was to take her hijab off to adhere to the demands of these extremist elements, her desire for education could be fulfilled only at the cost of her self identity. Or if she decides to not take it off, the (near) future might, in all likeliness, indicate practicing hijabi Muslim women disappearing from colleges, from universities and slowly from professional settings. What remains a pertinent question is whether we are now facing a present where there is a dire need for Muslim women to make a tough choice between education and self identity? 

How does the hijab become an act of faith and the raising of the saffron flag a weapon? It comes down to one single notion- fear.  If an act of faith is attempted with the intention to induce psychological fear to control those who do not conform to a standard set of norms, the act of faith then becomes obtrusively aggressive. And when there’s fear and control, then the options left for the other party is to either disappear, or make a compromise. And that’s exactly what Muslim women have been bought down to — make a compromise even when they do not clearly want to.

How does the hijab become an act of faith and the raising of the saffron flag a weapon? It comes down to one single notion- fear.  If an act of faith is attempted with the intention to induce psychological fear to control those who do not conform to a standard set of norms, the act of faith then becomes obtrusively aggressive. And when there’s fear and control, then the options left for the other party is to either disappear, or make a compromise. And that’s exactly what Muslim women have been bought down to — make a compromise even when they do not clearly want to.

Also read: Why Muslim Women Wearing Hijab Might Be The Face Of Resistance

Nevertheless, to conclude, it is essential to note that it would be ridiculous to think that what happened in Karnataka, will stay in Karnataka. The ripples are already being felt in the whole country. A teacher in Puducherry has asked a hijabi student to leave the class. The consequences are evident and it is too late to stop it now. 

The only thing that is left for us, is what next? Are our progressive liberal views so fragile that a piece of cloth can engulf it? Why is there an inherent need to estimate and calculate to what degree a personal choice to clothing is being made?

Hate spreads; and it’s spreading like wildfire today. Such events scar our secular fabric, and scars seldom heal completely.


Featured image source: Al Jazeera

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8 COMMENTS

  1. This article gives just one sided picture of the issue. It is unfortunate that in this plateform that is dedicated to feminism, writer gave only political and religious perspective, and failed in giving feminism perspective that is fundamental. You must show courage to delve deeper into hijab’s origin , how it evolved as a patriarchal imposition, it’ relevance in modern society. It is unfortunate that by default muslim girls in the process of patriarchal social conditioning have internalised it and perpetuating this social evil. Now they are saying that it is their “CHOICE”. By the way , neither writer nor these girls know the meaning of CHOICE. Let me explain, there are 3 cardinal pillars of women empowerment that are CHOICE, VOICE, and DECISION MAKING POWER ( AGENCY ). In this case , problem is with their choice that is inherently “IGNORANT CHOICE” not “AN INFORMED CHOICE” . You must educate them to break the shackles of patriarchy by giving right information but unfortunately writer supporting their obsession for hijab. Don’t take me otherwise , i am also against social evil prevalent in Hinduism as well. But the misery of Muslim women is bigger than those of Hindu so it is now their turn to break this shackle.

    • Hi Deepak, Firstly thank you for your perspective! As the author of this article , your argument is very significant to address. When you claim that a Muslim woman’s choice of hijab is an ignorant one, is incorrect. Women in Islam have several reasons as to why they may opt to cover themselves and the most important of all reasons is to reflect their ethical identity. The argument that it has been ‘internalized as a social evil’ is weak, because it comes with the presumption that all Muslim households are equally religious and give equal status to religion in their life, which is simply not the case. If you go by research, Muslims have become ‘less religious’ since 2016. If so why do Muslim women still hold on to its practice? Why are two thirds still wearing it? because they find reasons to wear it apart from simple religious grounds. We must also take into account that, women define modesty in their own terms. And if these set of women define their idea of modesty in covering themselves, then why is there the need for others to constantly urge these set of women to remove it and alter their ideas on other’s ideas of modestly.
      The inherent need for claiming that removing the hijab or covering will imply liberation is simple imposing of a standard set of ideals on these women. If we do look with a feminist perspective, the core ideal of feminism involves women to have equal opportunities, to have equal choice to all aspects of life. Kindly also note the fact that it if a true feminist would view hijab, the personal choice for to cover would be a good enough reason to exercise her choice.

      Let women wear what they want to wear. It is no one’s right to claim whether a woman’s choice to an garment is ignorant or not. If she is not being imposed, the choice remains hers. Completely. Because as long as this continues, a woman’s right to practice what we wants is being compromised, bringing us to back to where we started- others making decisions for her involving even a simple cloth that she puts on her head.

      • Hi Aniba.
        First of all, you quoted a ridiculous survey that has minuscule sample size that took the views of just 6277 people , that to in urban areas mainly. In a country ,with 20 cr muslim population, does this survey reflect real picture ?- absolutely not. So don’t say muslim are getting less religious.
        Another thing is that you claimed women decide modesty on their own term is also “totally flawed”. It’s the menfolk who decided what is modest for women , just Prophet Muhammad decide for his wives to cover their face . It’s mean there is patriarchal and religious sanction for hijab . How dictation of one male individual can become choice for most of Muslim women? By default , women started defining modesty from men’s perspective . So, please don’t say that it is their choice. Other perspective is that the moment you put a woman behind the curtain , you are trying to control her sexual agency as well that curtail her human right .
        You can’t see muslim women wearing hijab and their low labour force participation in silo. Just tell me how many muslim women who are taking modern education join labour force , obviously their share is negligible. Here you can easily understand how patriarchy dictate their lives .
        If still you adamantly believe what you think is right then you are free mohtarma to live in your ignorant and prejudicial world. But , it will damage this channel credibility for feminism movement.
        “Patriarchy is harmful even if a woman preach and practice it.”

  2. Same blog – (Ghoonghat is Patriarchal)
    https://feminisminindia.com/2017/07/25/ghoonghat-identity-haryana/

    Quoting from this article – “As per the statistics published by Pew, 84% of Hindu women (from the age of 18-25) wear a bindi in public places, and around 58% of Sikhs (from the age of 18-25) wear the turban and nearly 87% of Muslim women (from the age of 18-25) wear the burqa (which includes hijab and niqab) outside their homes.” You are mentioning stats in public places. The issue has arised in a school. A school which is not controlling anything outside it’s premises.

    This blog has zero credibility and hence support from only pseudo feminists.

    • True, Now I lost trust on this Channel because it is not for feminism but for pseudo feminism. It have double standards for measuring things . In fact , it is raising hand in support of patriarchy.what a bullshit.

  3. Cover the eyes too.
    Let the choice be complete.
    Do you think any hijab women can be a useful citizen in any country.

    There was no hijab in tamil nadu 40 years back, now you can’t see young even without while it is still possible to see many without in 50 plus agd group. Stop lying thru teeth

  4. “How are two-thirds of the total Muslim women population in India which amount to roughly 180 million Muslim women being made to wear something they do not want to wear? ”

    By the same logic, can we say “Half of India’s population is women. How can more than half a billion women be made to do something they do not want to do?”. This means Indian women have total freedom to do whatever they want to do. So there is no patriarchy here. Right?

  5. When a woman is brainwashed to wear tight and skimpy clothing through movies, music videos, magazines, television, etc. no one has a problem.

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