Last week the Karnataka HC upheld the government restriction on wearing a headscarf in schools and colleges on the grounds that the hijab is not an essential part of Islamic religion but rather a part of culture.
It is unfortunate to see a simple matter that could have been resolved by talks between the students, parents and teachers become the polarising matter it is today. It is now fraught with political agendas, patriarchal claims and religious divides. We seem to have forgotten what lies at the core of the matter— the right to education lies with each one of us, regardless of our caste, creed, gender and religion.
Zakia Soman, one of the founding members of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, pointed out that most of us seem to be overlooking the fact that uniforms cannot be more important than the purpose of the institutions, which is to educate. All girls must be in school, with or without the hijab.
I am not going to argue whether or not the hijab is a necessary part of Islamic religion or just a cultural symbol. Our culture and traditions are also essential to us on a personal level as they give us a sense of belonging within our community. I am also arguing whether or not hijab is a patriarchal concept used to suppress women. Ultimately what we fail to acknowledge is that it is the women’s choice. To wear or not to wear a hijab is a decision that should be made by the person wearing it, not by society, not her family and not her institution. What I am going to talk about is uniformity and diversity.
Uniforms and India’s diversity
Uniforms, a largely British concept, help instil a spirit of brotherhood and camaraderie among the people of an institution. In a country as diverse as India, it allows us to look past our differences and creates a sense of similarity for a conducive learning environment.
It is these educational institutions that have taught us that there can be unity in diversity. We’ve been taught that together we are stronger. Despite our differences, we are all ultimately Indians. Instead of trying to suppress our diversity why not embrace it? Can we not learn from our differences instead of using them as fuel for dogma?
I am not saying uniforms should be removed. In fact, uniforms help establish a sense of equality in these economically unstable and unequal times. They give us an equal footing and help develop a sense of belonging and instil a sense of discipline towards the institution and its purpose. But failing to acknowledge the diversity in our society and wanting us to fit into a one-size cut out is a mistake that will lead to angst and turmoil.
India is a country of many religions, cultures and traditions. Each and every one of its cultures deserves equal respect and consideration. We are a land of many a land of variety, and that is India’s strength. Our diversity doesn’t have to divide us, but if we are willing to embrace it, can unite us.
The author is a student at St. Stephen’s College. Views are personal