From The Hijab Ban To Bulli Bai/Sulli Deals: The Muslim Women’s Assertion Against The Hindutva

During the last weeks of 2021, six Muslim girls were stopped to enter their classrooms in a pre-university college in Udupi, Karnataka, because they were wearing a hijab. The incident sparked protests around the state and the matter reached the Karnataka High Court, where a full bench on 15 March 2022, held that “wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not make up an essential religious practice in Islamic faith.”

The Muslim woman’s political assertion and resistance against a draconian political order didn’t begin with the hijab-row in Udupi. The CAA-NRC protests against granting citizenship based on religion in Shaheen Bagh in December 2019, and the infamous ‘Bulli/Sulli deals app’ on the virtual space which auctioned Muslim women, in recent times, saw the latter hurt, and wronged but still refusing to lay down without a fight.

During the last weeks of 2021, six Muslim girls were stopped to enter their classrooms in a pre-university college in Udupi, Karnataka, because they were wearing a hijab. The incident sparked protests around the state and the matter reached the Karnataka High Court, where a full bench on 15 March 2022, held that “wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not make up an essential religious practice in Islamic faith.”

Conversations with some of the Muslim women targeted in the recent hijab-ban row and anti-Muslim apps, reveal their hurt, struggle and defiance against a government they view as totalitarian.

Also read: Karnataka Hijab Row: Clothing, Secularism And A Nation In Danger

On the Hijab ban

Dr Aqsa Shaikh, founder of the Human Solidarity Foundation, and an associate professor of Community Medicine at Hamdard, in an interview, spoke of the usage of ‘flimsy excuses’ to curtail the liberty of the Muslim community.

Shaikh viewed the Hijab-ban incident in continuation with the draconian ‘Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance’ or the love-jihad law, the furore over the customary Friday prayers in the open in Gurugram and the dictation of dietary practices on the religious minorities, as part of a larger plan to reduce Muslims to second-class citizens.

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On the schism between the Hijab and the uniform, Shaikh is of the opinion that ‘there should be no uniforms in schools’. Uniforms lead to conformity and seize the idea of the individual, superimposing upon her the idea of singular group identity. Shaikh mentions the tribal communities who have tattoos and piercings on their bodies, which would disqualify them from entering educational institutions and deprive them of education. The child is then left to choose between culture and education.

The Muslim woman, according to Shaikh, faces double the oppression, from both ends of the spectrum: the liberals and the radicals. The liberals, states Shaikh, are concerned with the ‘conditioning’ of Muslim women into wearing a hijab, whereas the Taliban are concerned with imposing the hijab. Both the views snatch away the notion of choice from the Muslim woman. 

The other extreme end of the argument can be read as mirroring the Talibani viewpoint: the Hindutva argument against the hijab. The Hindutva forces have disallowed Muslim women from entering educational institutions because of their dress, which up until a few days ago, was never a point of significance.

Why a Karnataka college's hijab ban is an assault on the fundamental right  to religion
In the Karnataka High Court, a full bench on 15 March 2022 held that “wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not make up an essential religious practice in Islamic faith.” Image Source: Scroll.in

Against the implementation of uniforms, Shaikh goes on to speak against the skewed understanding of using the French idea of secularism to justify the hijab ban in India. The French understanding of secularism removes religion from all aspects of public life. It is a notion unthinkable in India because “religion is ingrained into education in terms of Saraswati Puja, Gayatri mantra, and teachers coming with mangal sutras, saris and bindis,” observes Shaikh. It is a move unconstitutional, ill-thought-out and hypocritical.

The schools should have engaged them (the students) in some form of a debate where the divergent viewpoints could have their say in a more civilized manner, says Shaikh.

The Muslim women journalists: wronged, angry and resisting

Sana, an alumna of AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, and a journalist, spoke on being auctioned on the ‘Bulli Bai/Sulli deals’ platform, as facing ‘mental trauma’ and then subsequently, deactivating Instagram and LinkedIn. Memories attached with a photograph, which earlier was a source of delight, now turned tragic and painful by a mere glance at it. Being fetishised and objectified became a harrowing realisation that would now make Sana unsettled and unnerved which would now make her  “think twice before posting pictures on social media.”  For her, being auctioned on the app was a manifestation of the “insecurity of the upper-caste Hindu man”.

Alima, an alumna of St. Xavier’s, Mumbai, on the hijab-ban incident, places the incident under an ‘innate Islamophobia’ and the entire hijab-row to be ‘purely political’ and ‘orchestrated’. Being a “minority within a minority”, the Muslim woman, after being educated and fully aware of her rights, is refusing to be docile and submissive and this worries the hardline Hindutva establishment. She spoke of the “inferiority complex” surrounding the entire discourse and its troubling manifestations in the form of Dharam Sansads and hate speeches that target the bodies of Muslim women.

It is also the result of the upbringing in a patriarchal environment, and this entire system creates men who consider it a sign of strength to viciously and sexually attack Muslim women: patriarchy and Islamophobia are a poisonous mixture that creates such men, asserts Alima.

Eisha, a journalist and an alumna of AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, speaks of the larger muck within the ‘Bulli/Sulli deals’ episode where there is an increasing trend of “sexualising Muslim women’s bodies”. To dehumanise the woman’s body would be to snatch away the agency of choice from her and crush her rights.

Eisha also believes that the ‘Bulli/Sulli deals app’ is more about the larger problem of unemployment than an unconscious inferiority complex. Eisha covers gender, rights of Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi women’s rights and upon publishing any story on the topics which she covers, she is abused online and receives several hate comments on social media. The comments range from ‘go to Pakistan’ to being called a ‘slut’ and this worries her considerably. She fears that all these events are a harbinger of an eventual genocide and the days of the Muslims are ‘numbered’.

Love Jihad Law: How To Make Hindu Women ‘Nirbhar’ In A ‘Aatmanirbhar’ India
The promulgation of the love-jihad law to stop inter-faith marriages is the manifestation of the shadow aspect of the Hindutva men.

The Shadow: ‘Bulli/Sulli’ deals/ love-jihad and Hijab-ban as a symptom of an Inferiority complex

The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, mentions the idea of ‘the Shadow’ as the unpleasant parts of an individual’s psyche which when accumulated to the full, explodes in often grotesque ways.

The Bulli bai/Sulli deals app, and the promulgation of the love-jihad law to stop inter-faith marriages is the manifestation of the shadow aspect of the Hindutva men. This has grown stronger over frustrations ranging from employment to an inferiority complex arising out of a sense of fear of Muslim colonialism and a crisis of masculinity, which further spills into raw hatred and misogyny because the shadow isn’t brought to light under reason but is consigned to the dark corners only to erupt in horrendous ways.

Also read: What Is The History Behind ‘Masculine Hindu Hero’ & ‘Virile Muslim Other’

Education has provided the Muslim woman with the tools to resist the diktats of the patriarchal and fascist regime. The current regime’s fragile masculinity suffers a blow when a minority within a minority strongly asserts herself publicly. Political and religious leaders have justified the idea of rape as a political tool to silence the voices of Muslim women.

The Bulli bai/Sulli deals app, and the promulgation of the love-jihad law to stop inter-faith marriages is the manifestation of the shadow aspect of the Hindutva men. This has grown stronger over frustrations ranging from employment to an inferiority complex arising out of a sense of fear of Muslim colonialism and a crisis of masculinity, which further spills into raw hatred and misogyny because the shadow isn’t brought to light under reason but is consigned to the dark corners only to erupt in horrendous ways.

(Names have been changed to protect the identities of some individuals)


A post-graduate in English literature, Danishmand Khan is interested in the intersectionality of caste, class, gender and communalism. A Gandhi fellow, he is currently pursuing a post-graduate degree in journalism from AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. You can find him on Twitter.

Featured Image Credit: Aasawari Kulkarni/Feminism In India

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