• Aishwarya Singh

The Hijab Controversy

Why does Unity in Diversity NOT Exist In India?


India is a country known for its diversity and the unity it supposedly possesses. But there have been many instances which contradict this belief in "Unity in Diversity".


Beginning with the Controversy

The state-led institution of PU College for Girls in Udupi has recently banned women wearing hijabs from entering their classrooms. Regardless of what their religion believes, they now have to follow the dress code, or else they will not be allowed to attend the institution.


This has sparked petitions and protests across the country and earned worldwide criticism as other institutions are getting influenced as well. In one of the viral videos, young boys come forward to protest with saffron shawls and "Jai Shree Ram" chants in favour of the ban, all the while heckling away a Muslim girl who was attempting to enter her college.


Petitioners and protesters have said that "it is a violation of their fundamental right to profess their religion and their right to freedom." The counterargument made by the government is that allowing overt display of religious symbolism through clothing would "lead to a student acquiring a distinct identity," which would not be "conducive to an academic environment." The state has also defended its decision as a means to "protect public order."


Consequently, the Karnataka HC has imposed section 144 in the state with an interim order to reopen schools and colleges but have barred students from wearing any religious mark that distinguishes them from the others. This barring is applicable in the institutions who have a uniform code, only.


It is not the Hijab

The constitution grants citizens the right to practise and promote their religion "peacefully". There are restrictions applied to these rights when there is a threat to sovereignty, integrity, security, public order, contempt of court, or violation of morality in India. But a hijab or a headscarf qualifies for none of these reasons.


There was a similar case that appeared in 2016, Kerala HC. The case concerned the dress code for the All India Pre Medical Entrance Examinations (AIPMT), and it allowed Muslim female candidates to wear hijab to the test centers. Even there, the argument put forward was that "the right of women to have the choice of dress based on religious injunctions is a fundamental right protected under Article 25(1), when such a prescription of dress is an essential part of the religion."


Ultimately, it raises another question: why this uproar?


Intermixing the Religion with Education

The objective of education is to inculcate values in students, such as equality, secularism, education for all, environmental protection, etc. Every student must be provided at least a minimum level of education to understand the culture as well as the people of our country. This is also to provide education to those who cannot afford it, and to prepare the students for the ever-increasing demands.


Contemporary access to schooling – a solid pathway to educational attainment – depends on a country’s educational infrastructure. In many instances, the foundations of that infrastructure are based on facilities originally built by religious leaders and organisations to promote learning and spread the faith. But inferring from the current situation, the foundations are being built by political leaders to promote faith in their party, thus exploiting and stealing away India’s treasure.


Education is likely to affect the decisions of individuals by making them more rational and sceptical in their judgements. According to a report by Pwe Forum, South Indians are the least likely to say religion is very important in their lives (69%), and the South is the only region where fewer than half of the people report praying daily (37%), considering the higher literacy rate of 81% in that part of the country.


The Hindu-first Agenda

India is distraught over the Hindu-Muslim war. A war that has for ages inflicted pain and disharmony on the two religious sects. Reports state that with the commencement of the Modi Government, their Hindu-nationalistic ideology has deepened the abyss between the Hindus and Muslims.


2014- Parliament: In the world’s second-largest elections held in 2014 with over 834 million registered voters, the BJP alone received 31% of the vote, winning 282 seats out of the total 336 seats won by its alliance. And the parliamentary representation of Muslims has dropped to 4% of the total seats, the lowest in five decades.

2015- Hunt for Saraswati: India has spent millions hunting for a mythical river named Saraswati, mentioned in various religious texts and believed to have disappeared 4000 years ago.

2018- Renaming Cities: The UP government has renamed multiple cities. One of them is Allahabad, renamed as Prayagraj, referencing the Hindu pilgrimage site there. This hurt the sentiments of the Muslim population of the city, who believed that their ancestral lineage and significance had been lost with the city’s renaming.


Just six months after being elected PM, the Supreme Court handed Hindu groups control of a contested site where a 16th-century mosque was razed over two decades ago by Hindu-activists.

2019-CAA: The act gave the religious minorities some relief in attaining Indian citizenship but was not applicable to the Muslim minority specifically. According to the critics, the focus has tended to be more on the perceived misuse and disenfranchisement of Indian Muslim citizens than the persecution of minority Muslims in India's neighbouring countries.


Bigotry - A Clout?

At a time of widespread turmoil, Gandhi introduced the concept of secularism to India, which allows the government of India to promote different religions equally, where tolerance, acceptance, and co-existence of religions are acknowledged. But when political parties begin promoting one and demoting the other, the country loses its cool.


Currently, with the onset of elections in UP, the rift between the Hindus and Muslims has widened. Targeting religious sentiments becomes the source of the clout required to distract voters. This will drive people to not act rationally, and the attention of the citizens will be diverted from the important issues like unemployment, falling GDP, its failures, etc., towards gibberish causes.


Young people rush to the streets for any protest, often wearing saffron shawls and chanting "Jai Shree Ram." Unaware of the gravity of the situation, they caused a controversy, giving the party the needed clout.


The data says that in the 2019 national elections itself, 60% of Hindu voters who think it is very important to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian cast their vote for the BJP, compared with only a third of Hindu voters who feel less strongly about both these aspects of national identity.


Conclusion

The quality of education in India is pretty bad, especially in government-run schools. The Karnataka government's decision to enforce a standard dress code in an institution to get an education is in fact a display of disunity and intolerance towards other religions. The purpose of education is to impart knowledge to the students and not to check their dress code or religion. The BJP's Hindu nationalistic ideals have often been the cause of conflict, and it often doesn’t end on a good note either. The intense atmosphere of an election period, infused with protests in other parts of the country, is likely to have a drastic impact on the results.

 

~ Aishwarya Singh


Sources : Reuters, The Wire, India Today, PWE Forum: Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation, In Tech Open, The Hindu