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Representational image Credit – India TV

A Jamia Millia Islamia MBA student was stopped from giving UGC NET exam in December 2018 in a school in Rohini, Delhi, after she refused to take off her hijab while giving the exam. A similar incident was noted in Goa as well. This took place outside the NET examination centre where she agreed to be checked completely. Who gave the guards the authority to challenge religious norms, how does clothes interfere with the process of giving exams? Religious intolerance and Islamophobia is reaching dangerous levels in our country. UGC should be answerable for this huge form of discrimination that the student had to face right before an examination. This reduced her life chances, the chance to give this exam a shot was taken away from her because of either ignorance or sheer evil on part of the guards who became self-appointed guardians in determining who can/cannot give this exam.

This is defiant of the principles of secularism and tolerance which a democracy should be based on. How would this single instance affect the mindset of every Hijabi woman who plans on giving this exam in the future? How does she deal with the dilemma of a constant conflict between her religious practices and absurd restrictions outside such examination centres? One needs to blame right wing conservatism as well as those who are intrinsically critical of any religious practice to the extent they join the right wingers in intolerance. The critique needs to be based on misuse of religious practices to serve political needs and agenda, but can the right to practice religion be taken away in the pretext of following security procedures?

Such incidents trouble you to the core: is this the progress we look forward to after several decades of independence? The right to practice religion is an instrinsic right of every individual. Clothes cannot determine progressive thought process and under no circumstance should a form of clothing be taken off in guise of security measures. There have been several feminist dialogues globally regarding whether Hijab can be considered progressive or not. But clothes cannot determine the level of liberation of the woman. While a woman should have every right to wear what she wants, wherever she wants. It would be highly pretentious and insensitive towards the Muslim community to presume that uncovering the head is the path to liberation of the woman.

Hijab/burkha forcibly taken away from a woman is as brutal as imposing it on someone. What happened in the UGC NET examination centre in Rohini was nothing short of brutal imposition which should be rebuked and resisted. The purpose of education should be tolerance and sensitivity rather than imposition of a single thought process or sense of clothing to be upheld by all.

Sujata Jha is a Phd Scholar in Sociology department of Jamia Millia Islamia. She has worked in The Telegraph, Kolkata and has taught in Christ College, Kanpur, Miranda House and Kamla Nehru College.

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