Covering Heads Not Minds, Right Or Wrong?
India is a secular country with no official religion, every citizen who lives inside its borders has the freedom to practice whichever religion they like.
Following the ratification of the Forty-second Amendment in 1976, the Preamble to the Indian Constitution declared India to be a secular country. Because India is a secular country with no official religion, every citizen who lives inside its borders has the freedom to practice whichever religion they like. Faith is deemed to be a personal choice, and everyone has the right to practice the religion of their choice.
Wearing a hijab is protected under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution’s right to freedom of expression as part of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.
The Hijab row was initiated in the early part of 2022 when a dispute over wearing hijab took place in the government pre-university college at Udupi. Six Muslim female students insisted on wearing hijab to classes on top of their college uniform. The college said that the uniform did not allow the wearing of the hijab, which violates its uniform policy. As a result, the college allowed them to wear hijab on campus but did not allow them into classes. A state with a 13% of Muslim majority gave rise to the “Hijab Row”.
The escalation of the issue
The Udupi issue gradually started gaining momentum in the different regions of Karnataka, At a co-educational first-grade college in Koppa in the Chikmanglore District, where hijabs were being allowed, Hindu students started wearing saffron scarves to college to protest against the allowance of hijab for the Muslim girls. The college asked Muslim students to remove their hijab due to tension that was taking place. Gradually Hindu students started wearing saffron scarves protesting against hijab at Pompei College in Mangalore. The protest was supported by Hindu organizations like ABVP, VHP and Bajrang Dal.
The story was brought to the notice of the media by Ansar Ahmed, the district president of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike. The chairman of the college development committee, which was responsible for formulating the uniform policy, was BJP MLA K. Raghupati Bhat. There were no Muslims among the group’s twenty-one members. CFI and SDPI gradually maintained that because the uniform was not mandated by the government, they could not infringe on the students’ religious liberty. The problem was finally elevated to the state government as the argument became more heated.
The role of the Government
This, according to the Education Minister for Primary and Secondary Education and Sakala Karnataka, is an act of “indiscipline.” Students are not allowed to practice their “faith” at educational facilities, he claimed. He went on to say that the clothing had been used for decades and that there had been no problems with it. He placed the blame on the political parties that backed the act. Karnataka’s Home Minister stated that schools and institutions should have the feeling that “we are all Indians,” and that uniforms should reflect this.
The total Muslim Population in Karnataka is 78.93 Lakhs (12.92 per cent) of a total of 6.11 Crore. Muslims are a minority in Karnataka state forming 12.92% of the total population.
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The Karnataka government has decided to appoint an expert committee to decide on a uniform and dress code and has instructed Udupi colleges to retain the status quo till the panel makes a final decision. The government issued an order declaring that uniforms are required to be worn and must be worn at all times. Students must obey “equality and unity” and maintain order, according to the authorities. Several Muslim females from Udupi’s government PU college petitioned the High Court for a ruling that they had a fundamental right to practice vital religious activities, such as wearing the headscarf as prescribed by Islam.
National and international politicization of the hijab issue
“Awake, arise and educate!”
— Savitri Bai Phule
The hijab row is the sudden conformity of the events that took place at the educational institutions that led to great chaos in the country. The very conformity of the hijab row has hampered religious freedom and is heading towards the irrational growth of the youth. The hijab row gained huge momentum across the country and has gained attention internationally. Huge masses protesting on the street to the global leaders giving out their perspective the hijab row has gained it all.
- Protest in New Delhi
There was a protest that took place in front of Karnataka Bhawan in New Delhi, the protesters were majorly students.
“We are here to surround the Karnataka Bhawan over how attempts are being made to incite riots in the state,” said the demonstrators.
- Protest in West Bengal
The protest started from Jadavpur University and went to Park Circus, a prominent place of sit-in protest conducted by Muslim women. Many people were seen holding the placards “HUM PADHENGE” the protestors stood in solidarity with Muslim women (Hijab Row) and their constitutional right to education.
- Protest in Tamil Nadu
In Coimbatore, Yegathuva Muslim Jamath conducted a protest in which Muslim women wore tri-colour scarves and participated. Sabarimala, leader of the Women’s Liberation Party, participated in the protest and said that Muslim women being stopped from wearing hijab inside classrooms was like ‘Mulakkaram’ or breast tax.
- Celebrity support
Actress Sonam Kapoor broke her silence regarding the Karnataka Hijab Row, She shared an Instagram post, a picture of a man in a turban and a woman in a hijab and questioned why can a turban be a choice but hijab can’t.
The Manchester United star Paul Pogba also poured his attention on the controversy and shared a story on Instagram speaking about the hijab row in India and supporting the Muslim students in Karnataka.
The American philosopher and social critic Noam Chomsky said the the “pathology of Islamophobia, Islamophobia is also turning some 250 million Indian Muslims into a persecuted minority”.
Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Pakistan, said on Twitter, “Collage is forcing us to choose between studies and the headscarf.” It’s appalling that girls aren’t allowed to attend school with their hijabs. Women are still objectified based on how much or how little they wear. Indian authorities must put an end to Indian women’s marginalization.”
The role of the Indian judiciary
The Karnataka High Court is considering petitions contesting the government’s decision to ban the hijab in public schools. As per this, the government ordered to shut down schools and colleges to avoid more chaos barring hijab and saffron wearing. Hearing the hijab matter, Karnataka High Court said it needs the attention of a larger bench, while lawyers representing the petitioners asked the court to pass an interim order allowing students to attend classes. . Prohibitory orders have been issued to prevent violence near educational institutions. A total of nine districts are currently under Section 144.
Practising the freedom of religion or maintaining discipline at school to promote unity and equality, what does one choose? The youth has started to question if this is even necessary. Isn’t disrupting religious harmony against the so-called discipline of the school or any other institution for that matter?
The answer unfortunately is not so simple even though we live in a country that celebrates the Right to freedom of speech and expression and the Right to freedom of religion. As schools and colleges increasingly become grounds for protest gatherings over citadels of learning, the unworthiness of such issue perturbing National peace leaves a lot of us dumbfounded.
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