The recent Hijab controversy, as you call it, in Karnataka is just not about hijab. That’s the first thing that we must register. We are a democracy and there is a Constitution. Article 25 of the Constitution clearly mentions that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely practice, profess and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health. And we are a secular democracy. Positive secularism is something we have always followed where the State or the government will give freedom and respect to all religions. The State will not have any religion.
But look at what happened with these schools and colleges in Karnataka. Some young women students who are practising their religion within the specified rules of the government institutions (schools and colleges) where they are supposed to match the colour of their scarf to the colour of their uniform, are being targeted. They have been doing this all these years. One day, the college/school gate gets closed on their face. Why? Because they say that these students were wearing hijab. I want to ask, what happened on that particular day? Did the Constitution of India change? Did we stop being a democratic nation? Why all of a sudden? Even if you make a rule, there has to be a notification. How does the rules get communicated to the students? Through the proper channels. Parents are told about any change in rules well in advance. It doesn’t happen all of a sudden.
Not about hijab
A Christian has the right to wear the cross. Sikhs have the right to wear kada and turbans. Hindus have a right to wear a janeu or a tilak after the puja. Why can’t Muslim women wear the scarf, something that is part of their religious practice? What we need to understand is that the entire controversy has nothing to do with hijab. This is apartheid. It is a policy of segregation and discrimination on grounds of religion. It is blatant Islamophobia. They targeted vocal, progressive Muslim women during the Sulli and Bulli Bai crimes and now, they are going after hijabi students.
It’s got nothing to do with hijab and nothing to do with progressive liberal views. It’s only to do with the fact that these women belong to a particular religion. We are becoming a hateful society. Communal. Regressive. Intolerant.
The people of India must wake up. We have to rise above the politics of hate. These are educational institutions where the focus should be on the integral development of a person. Education must empower the students to decide what is best for them. These educational institutions are where we learn about our rights and duties. We, as students, learn to fight for truth and justice and all about human rights. Right to education, too, is a fundamental right. How can all of this be denied to any student? What a sad day it is for any student when the principal or the teachers close the doors of education on him/her?
Look what’s happening—students have been divided. To counter one group of students, another group is coming with saffron shawls, saffron turbans. They are intimidating those women students. A woman student in her religious attire is being intimidated by an entire group of saffron-clad boys. The harassment is out in public and the government machinery doesn’t move. There is no police. The principal and the educators are closing doors on women students who want to seek education. Is that what we have come to?
The issue is not about hijab. We can talk about ghoonghat and hijab some other day. Let’s not make it all about hijab. I don’t wear a hijab and it’s my choice not to. If somebody else wears a ghoonghat or hijab out of their own choice, the first thing I need to do is respect their choice.
Let’s not talk about whether it’s regressive or progressive. And if you really want to talk about it, then look at the body language of those hijab-clad students. They are empowered,they are aware of their rights. They are talking about it; they are asking; they are fighting for their right to education. That’s empowerment. That’s enlightenment. So people who are making the entire controversy revolve around a certain attire, which these young women students have wilfully chosen, are basically the people who do not support the idea of right to choice and right to freedom. They wish to impose their ideology and defy and disrespect the Constitution of India. Why, else, did they not choose to unfurl the Tricolour in the campus?
The entire atmosphere of freedom is being taken over. They say one culture, one community, one religion, time and again, talking about their supremacy. It’s not going to end here. They don’t like vocal women. They don’t. The entire patriarchy is at play. We can’t see that. It’s misogyny. Communalism, it’s bigotry, it’s everything that this nation doesn’t deserve. Politicians benefit but we, the people, get killed and consumed in hate. The nation is collapsing. We’re going many many years back. And every single Indian should be disturbed about it.
The risk of collapse
The consequences are right in front of our eyes. India is strong only if there’s unity in diversity. We cannot deny that we are a diverse nation. And if there is no unity in diversity, then we will collapse as we are collapsing. It has a very damaging, destructive consequence for every single Indian. The entire atmosphere is against individual and social development. It’s an alarming situation. When peace gets disrupted and there is no unity in diversity, then it’s going to affect everybody’s lives one way or the other.
We’re not focusing on education, we’re not focusing on development, we’re not focussing on employment, we’re not focusing on progress. We’re not focusing on the positives. We’re only focusing on the negatives. And if that happens, it is going to hamper everybody. For a young entrepreneur who has just started their business, they will see this as a damaging development in their lives. Students, they have stopped dreaming. They’re only thinking of how to meet challenges in life. We don’t talk about dreams anymore, we don’t talk about ambitions.
Why can’t we think about these hijabi students with a different lens? That perhaps hijab and that attire gave them the mobility to come out of their houses. They got the permission to go and seek education. Perhaps, this is the beginning for them. Perhaps at some point of time, they’ll think about everything and move beyond it.
The concern is not development. The concern is not beti bachao beti padhao. And that is evident. The consequences are dire for the entire nation. I always say this — that we think it’s not going to come to us — it’s a farce. We’re trying to stupidly distract ourselves into thinking that ‘it’s not me’. Reality is it’s too close. Next could be you. Hate is like fire. It engulfs everybody in its fold. Hate doesn’t have eyes to identify a particular religion or caste or gender. When it starts spreading, it’s going to take everybody down.
It’s a collective responsibility of all of us to douse this fire of hate. And fire of division. And only the people of India can do it. And I have to say, the onus today is definitely on the majority community. It is the responsibility of the majority community in any part of the world to protect the minority. In Pakistan, it is the responsibility of the Muslim community to protect its Hindus and Sikhs. But there seems to be very little action, and more silence. Silence only helps the enabler of destruction. So speak up before it’s too late for all of us.
Sayema is a radio presenter in Delhi. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)