After what seemed like an eternity, given the urgency of the matter, the Karnataka High Court finally delivered its verdict on the hijab row, on Tuesday. The court upheld the state government’s ban on the religious headscarf, worn by many Muslim girls and women, inside classrooms, observing that the hijab is not an essential practice under Islam.
The verdict further stated that the prescription of a uniform on campus was a reasonable restriction that students mustn’t object to. All petitions challenging the government’s ban on the headscarf during lessons have been dismissed. As per reports, the petitioners now say they will approach the Supreme Court with their plea. Follow updates here.
Anticipating tensions following the verdict, the state’s law and order authorities have banned public gatherings in Karnataka and colleges in sensitive zones like Udupi have been shut. A reaction from student parties too was but expected. According to India Today, a group of over 30 students at Surapura Taluk Kembavi college boycotted their exam on March 15 and went home following the HC verdict.
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Hijab row verdict: A blueprint for religious discrimination?
The hijab issue is a complex one and poses many important questions about the expression of religious identity as a fundamental right protected by the Indian Constitution. And in the web of it, are caught young girls who at an age when they should be getting an education, are having to run court to court to secure it.
What is and isn’t significant to a religion is not for us to decide. The highest authority in the country, our Constitution, guarantees freedom of decision to every single citizen. It is dangerous that the HC worded its verdict in a way that could stand to become a blueprint for religious discrimination.
Can this idea of “essentialism” then not be extended to religious symbols of other religions, like the turban in Sikhism and sindoor in Hinduism? Not everyone who subscribes to these faiths sports these items but that is no ground for either party to face bias. The same logic applies to schoolgoing students, but there’s the central caveat about the prescribed uniform on campus.
Suddenly yanking off a part of a woman’s cultural and religious identity one day will, of course, evoke intense reactions. Should the weight of this conundrum be then dropped on the shoulders of young girls?
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What’s also problematic is that many faux-feminists parading as champions of women’s rights since the start of the hijab row are once again seizing the moment to sermonise Muslim women on what constitutes and doesn’t constitute empowerment. Bigoted opportunism is on flamboyant display on social media where netizens are lecturing on how the Karnataka HC has “liberated” these Muslim girls.
Why do these people never have a word to say on patriarchal symbols other than the hijab? Don’t objects such as the mangalsutra stem from similar conflicted roots of gender inequality? Feminism cannot be selective and if it is, it is not feminism. Besides, why is the idea of women’s choice such a hard pill to swallow? Why is it unfathomable that women may be reclaiming and redefining tools that are linked to patriarchal oppression?
Despite the Right to Education (RTE) Act coming into effect over a decade ago, the numbers for girl child education in India are still disproportionate. As per a 2020 report by the Right to Education Forum backed by UNICEF, 40 percent of teen girls in the age group of 15 and 18 are reportedly not attending school. Do we want the hijab quandary to be added to the list of reasons that girls are kept away from education?
The saddest aspect in the whole hijab row is that girls are having to lose out on their studies on account of the scheming designs of adults. Friendships have been sacrificed, mental peace is being discarded, knowledge stands compromised, and emancipation is precariously walking a tightrope – all over a cloth that covers the head.
Views expressed are the author’s own.