Hijabis – Women with More Faith Than Fear


Students hold protest at Aligarh Muslim University against the ban on hijab in Karnataka. (Photo Twitter)

The central issue is not that a woman is willingly covering herself, but that the Indian Muslim women are getting educated, moving forward, standing up for their rights, praised across the globe for their courage

Arshia Sana | Clarion India

THE domino effect created after several schools in Karnataka closed their gates on students wearing hijab is widening by the day and is now taking the much-anticipated and much-orchestrated political turn. Though this is not the first time that a community is marginalised for political benefits, only this time the happenings of the South are used for elections in the North.

It all started in January this year in Udupi district of Karnataka where hijabi students were barred from attending classes. They were asked by the school administration to sit in separate rooms until they removed their hijab. Later, they were denied entry into college for wearing hijab.

The arguments put forth by the majoritarian nationalists against wearing hijab are constitutionally rebutted by various legal experts and activists. Not only does the Constitution guarantee these students the right to dress according to their belief, but it is also a legally established argument that any document in conflict with the Constitution of India (rather say basic structure of the Constitution) can be challenged in the court of law. Thus, in this case, the state’s dress code order banning Muslim students from wearing hijab inside classrooms is ultra vires of the Constitution.

The Karnataka High Court has referred the matter to a larger Bench, but the tension over the issue does not seem to end any time sooner. The petitioners in the case have argued that the right to wear the dress of one’s choice is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India and has also been upheld by courts in various cases in the past.

Another petitioner challenged the legality of the state government’s dress code order for educational institutions which bans headscarves and hijabs.

For want of argument, hijab-haters are bringing in the question of secularism knowing full well that India follows the positive concept of secularism which allows every religion to practice its norms without interfering in others’ practices unlike France which seeks to achieve complete uniformity in the name of unity.

After all that has happened, the questions emerge – is hijab the real problem? Does it tarnish the secular canvas of India? Does hijab trouble conservatism or liberalism?

 Is hijab the real problem?

Hindutva fanatics have been flagging jeans and skirts for quite some time now. They called for a ban on a Diwali advertisement which showed women in kurta instead of saree. They urged Hindu women to drape themselves in saree and wear bindi. The central issue is not that a woman is willingly covering herself, but that the Indian Muslim women are getting educated, moving forward, standing up for their rights, praised across the globe for their courage, leaving mark everywhere they go – all that, without giving up their modesty, their culture. They know that they do not have to compromise their culture for being a modern woman. They understand the fact that modernism does not mean to forget your roots. However, modernism is “having eyes on the sky and feet on ground”.

Does Hijab tarnish the secular canvas of India?

India, as mentioned in the preamble of Constitution of India, is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. It allows every person to practice and profess the religion of his/her choice. Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty to all that entails the right to choose what you wear. Article 15 affirms non-discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

While we have grown up reciting Gayatri Mantra during morning assembly, celebrating Basant Panchmi, playing Holi in schools and doing Havan for farewell, how could a piece of cloth on some students’ heads disturb the secular character of our country? In a country where Sikhs can choose to wear turban, a chief minister can choose to wear saffron cape in and outside office, hijab seems to be most offensive.

Truth be told, little do the saffronists care for secularism. Their agenda is to ghettoise a community and homogenise the nation into one religion whichever way possible is far from hidden. If their intent was to preserve secularism, there wouldn’t have been propagandas like love-jihad and antipathy towards advertisements that displayed amiability between two religions.

Does hijab trouble conservatives or liberals?

This question hides in itself the hypocrisy of the Indian majoritarian section. They choose to side with conservatism or liberalism as per their convenience. A few years ago, the rightwing was all for ban on triple Talaq (Talaq-ul-bidat) to secure Muslim women’s rights and liberate them from patriarchy. Now, they have taken a U-turn by coming in the way of education of Muslim women because taking their headgear as a ruse.

Just half a year ago, these sectarian extremists feigned concern for the rights and education of women in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the country.  But now, they call for barring hijabis from education in their own country. HIPOCRISY? You speak of it!

The recent episode of Bulli-Bai app targeting and shaming Muslim women through online auction and the unabashed defence of the accused exposed the mindset of these “liberal” conservatives and the kind of hate they harbour for Muslims. Going by the conservative mindset their elected representatives exhibit time and again through criticism of jeans and other western outfits and urge the Hindu women to opt for Indian costume, parda/burqa/hijab should never be a problem for them. But it is. Why? Merely because these students are affiliated to a religion which they aim to marginalise.

During anti-CAA protests, my professor told me, “Liberals were trying to liberate Muslim women from their modest attire. These burqa-clad women have liberated themselves from their liberalism instead.” This thought has subconsciously given me the much-wanted defence for being a hijabi myself. I could not look the other way.

In the recent video from Mandya district of Karnataka that has become a talk of the town, the Muslim girl, Muskan, was seen parking her bike outside her college where she encountered some saffron fiends and fought all of them back singlehandedly. Where did we see the oppression? Do the liberals see her father/brother or any male member coming to drop her? Don’t they see the courage with which she encountered the mob? That is liberty!

Not long ago, Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and Lucknow’s Ghantaghar were flooded with burqewalis protesting against the draconian Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) until their protest was to be called off due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Those women looked more liberated than the liberals because they have realised that their importance as a human being per se, and not due to some attire that they choose to wear.

The Quranic verse – ‘La ikra ha fiddeen’ (there is no compulsion in religion) – is enough to explain that Islam gave them the freedom to choose much before any human rights document came into existence. And it is the “CHOICE” which makes them more confident and liberated that they never cease to stand straight for the right.

In another video from Shivamogga district, a few students could be seen hoisting a saffron flag at their college while others were protesting against hijab by brandishing saffron shawls. At an age when they should have been focusing on career and studies, they are given to a politically and morally deceitful cause of Hinduising India. These are a lost lot losing it more to the hegemonic hostility of present government.

While the world awaits the decision from the high court on the issue, India has lost a little more of logic to lunacy; a little more innocence to ignorance.


Arshia Sana is a writer and assistant lecturer at Jindal Global Law School, OP Jindal Global University. 

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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