When it comes to Muslim women exercising their religious freedom, society seems extremely concerned about how patriarchy has conditioned women. Recently Muslim women students of the Udupi district in Karnataka started protesting against the new dress code imposed by the principal of the Government Pre-University College for Girls. As per the rule, Muslim students could enter the college campus wearing hijab but they could not attend classes with it.
Due to the incident, a debate around school being a secular place started on social media. Many intellectuals and people with significant followers tweeted about it being somewhat fair for a school to have students not show up with attributes that separate them from the rest of the class. Since only six students started the protest at first, the authorities questioned why just a handful of students have a problem following a uniform code.
Karnataka Hijab Ban Protests:
When the protesting Muslim students did not back down, some Hindu students showed up on campus wearing saffron scarves. Of course the saffron scarf is not something Hindu people wear since childhood. Of course the saffron scarf isn’t part of a Hindu person’s religious identity like turban or hijab. However, it was still used to argue how all religions should be treated equally. In all the protests and saffronisation of the agenda- the most important of all questions got ignored- what about a woman’s agency over what she wears?
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What is so regressive about Muslim women wearing hijab if they are doing it out of choice? Who decides what religious customs suck freedom out of women and which ones empower them? Should Punjabi women and men be stopped from wearing turban to school? Should married Hindu women be stopped from wearing sindoor to office? Because who is to say that is fair?
Muslim students in Karnataka have been left no choice but to protest outside their college gates instead of getting educated in classes. They are being made to fight in order to exercise their fundamental rights.
Women who choose to wear hijab do it with pride and it makes them feel the opposite of oppressed. It allows them to express their individuality and practice their religion.
The state’s ideas about Muslim women covering themselves is not something new. Across the globe, many non-Muslim majority nations have banned the hijab. The argument is sometimes about making women free from the regressive practices and other times about national security. Of course Muslim women covering their faces can pose threat to the country because who knows what they might be hiding. What is more dangerous than a Muslim woman’s veil and a Muslim man’s beard? By no means the debate is removed from the Islamophobic mentality.
Women from all sorts of class, nation, caste, creed and race ask for equality and the right to be free. What happens is that only a certain class of women define equality and the rest of us are expected to feel grateful and cheer the feminist flag with them. Muslim women’s hijab becomes patriarchal and “free the nipple” becomes a movement.
Views expressed by the author are their own.