Whenever there are elections in India, its diversity is used as a tool by politicians of all persuasions to earn some political capital. This latest issue of wearing hijab in school classrooms or hijab protests is one such issue which would never have come up, were there no elections in significant states like UP and Punjab in India.
It is important to understand the timeline. In March-April 2021, Last year – Amit Shah – Narendra Modi led the BJP had a strong showing in the West Bengal elections increasing its seats tally from 3 to 77. While the Centre versus West Bengal wrestling match continued until Mamta Banerjee, who had lost against BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari (Nandigram), got herself elected in 30 September by-election from Bhabanipur and was sworn as an MLA on October 8, 2021.
Then, all eyes were set on February – March 2022 elections. After the West Bengal elections, where the BJP, although made huge gains but failed to form government, the 2022 elections in five states of India including the two most important states were going to be seen as a pre-2024 test for Modi. Evidently the stakes were high.
Then, in late December 2021, only weeks before the polling dates in 2022, some Muslim schoolgirls in Udupi, a city in the state of Karnataka started wearing hijab on top of their school uniforms, against the stated and accepted rules of that education institution, giving rise to what is now known as ‘hijab controversy’.
Under the Indian system of federalism – education is a state subject and states empower the educational institutions to make their own rules including the uniform or dress code and students and parents sign acceptance forms at the time of admission.
The matter is before the state of Karnataka High Court, which has in the interim ordered the ban on wearing hijab if it is against the prescribed rules of uniform or dress code.
Nowhere in India there is a ban or proposed ban on hijab or girl education.
But elections commanded that no one would wait for the final orders and by the time the polling was due in the states of UP and Punjab, the protests spread from one city to the whole of India and some international leaders also took note of it.
Clearly, for those who want to understand the issue and not follow the rhetoric, the hijab has not been banned and never can be under the constitution of India.
What could have been perhaps a small and intelligent attempt at having hijab to be included in the school uniform, with the political spin was painted as an issue of ‘fundamental right to practise one’s religion’ culminating into a wrongly termed ‘Save Indian Democracy’ which landed at our doorstep in Melbourne on February 20. In solidarity with Hijab protests in India, a small gathering took place in the Melbourne CBD, at the steps of the State Library.
Speaking at the small protest at the steps of State Library in Melbourne were various speakers including Tanvi Mor, who is not a Muslim and thus does not wear or relate to hijab. She wrote in a post on her FB page:
With due respect, Hijab is not a part of my culture, identity or religion and I do not relate to it or understand it completely. Therefore it is not my place to comment on it.
We have fought a century long battle to fight for women rights, let’s not push them backwards or become a hurdle in their progression. For any country to progress, women empowerment is critical in every section of the society. It can not be seen in isolation rather a collective effort.
Youth of our country today has lot more power, liberty and resources to change the narrative of any negative story. We need to change the direction of this conversation too towards something more meaningful, more dignified and more tolerant that actually help us in making our surroundings a better place to live in.
My end notes:
– If I am sitting next to you wearing a hijab as a matter of belief, LET ME BE.
– If I am sitting next to you wearing my turban as a symbol of pride, LET ME BE.
– If am sitting next to you in saree, mangalsutra and kumkum because I feel happy wearing it, LET ME BE.
– If I am out there in skirt or ripped jeans doing well in my studies and other areas of life, LET ME BE.
– LET ME BE!!
No one can argue with what most of Tanvi Mor says. But if she is proposing to sit in the classrooms when she says LET ME BE, her argument is either totally misconceived (given the legal framework of Indian federalism) or premature while the Karnataka state high court is pondering over the issue.
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