The humble hijab courts an unnecessary controversy

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    The humble hijab courts an unnecessary controversy

    Many Muslim girls chose to wear hijabs. That choice cannot be denied unless they are violating any law or accepted norms of decency in the country. That, the hijab or burqa or naqab certainly do not.

    The hijab controversy is an example of some particular sections of our society being targeted by others. This is particularly evident in the manner in which this has unfolded.

    First, it is not as if girls have only now started wearing hijabs to college. They have been doing so for long. The question to be asked then is why the people on the premises of the Karnataka college started objecting to it now, almost as if the hijab penetrated their consciousness overnight.

    Elections are going on in several states with a lot at stake for all contestants in some of these places. The history of our country, including the elections held recently, has shown that religion is a greater mobilizing force for people. One can thus surmise, however tenuous the link may be, that this unseemly row was created to polarize support for a particular party.

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    Second, what one person wears cannot affect another. Thus, there should be no ground for anyone to even comment on it. Eminent politician Shashi Tharoor has rightly asked how a girl wearing a hijab, or a person sporting a turban, a crucifix or a saffron shawl affects others. If it does not, why is anyone protesting about it or even talking about it, he asked. These are pertinent questions. Those who want to don a saffron shawl, please do so. However, do not say that you are doing it because someone is wearing a hijab. That does not hold water. No one seems to protest about religious identity in educational institutions when people attend classes with foreheads smeared after morning prayers or with tilak.

    One reason for objecting to a particular attire worn by someone in college or a public place can be on the ground that it violates that accepted norms of decency in the country. That the hijab or burqa or naqab certainly do not. To the contrary, they are at the opposite side of the spectrum. Another reason can be if there is a uniform to be worn. However, in the institution where this controversy flared up, no uniform was mandated.

    Some media channels are, instead of airing news or the opinions of experts, themselves taking a stand against the wearing of the hijab. Several of these panels do not have any person who will take a stand for the wearing of the hijab but had more than one person arguing against the hijab. This goes against the ethics of journalism. One moderator of a panel even said that the girls wearing a hijab to college are “using the Constitution to do something unconstitutional”. To say that this is ridiculous is an understatement. Wearing a hijab to a college cannot be termed unconstitutional or even wrong unless a particular uniform is meant to be worn.

    Many Muslim girls wear hijabs out of choice. That choice is something that they cannot be denied unless they are violating any law.

    The wearing of a hijab has also contributed to the greater enrolment of Muslim girls in educational institutions. Many Muslim girls, especially those from families that are not very well to do, attend college in hijab to ensure that their cultural identity is not compromised. It would be a tragedy if the enrolment of Muslim girls in higher educational institutions takes a hit because they are forced out of state-run institutions for wearing a hijab.

    This also brings to the fore the question of secularism, which governments can practice in two ways. One, members of the government can ensure that they stay well away from religion in public life. Two, they can involve themselves in religious activities in public life while trying to give equal importance to all religions. In our country, the latter approach is ostensibly taken. However, the problem with this is that there are so many religions that it becomes extremely difficult to cater to all of them in this respect. Besides, the people in governance do not even make a pretence of giving equal importance to all religions. Rather, they cater unabashedly to the majority religion. This makes the others feel like second-class citizens, who are wooed only during election time.

    The thing to do would be to rein in the unruly elements who gather in hordes to intimidate young girls wearing hijabs. If this is not done, the situation will surely get out of hand.


    The author is a senior journalist who has chosen to write under the pen name Gypsy Scholar.

    Image: Wikimedia commons – Algerian baccalaureate students cram before an examination; By Magharebia

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