The February 5 order of Government of Karnataka banning wearing of Hijab and High court interim order restraining wearing of any form of religious attire has brought to fore the Hijab issue. While the BJP may try to show itself in progressive and modernity light, there are 3 M’s behind the move of Government of Karnataka. Karnataka has emerged as a Hindutva lab where Hindutva experimentation is being carried out like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. These 3 M’s are Minority subjugation, Majority domination and Muslim isolation.
The order is in line with subjugation of minorities and goes against Right to Equality, right to freedom and right to freedom of religion. It is being claimed that the aim is to bring ‘uniformity’ in institutions to preserve the learning environment. Diversity rather than uniformity serves the purpose of education as diversity creates acceptance of plurality of dress codes based on one’s religion, region, and ethnic background. The order rather is to make minorities give up dress codes which represent their religion. Moreover, by bringing in uniformity it also violates cultural and educational rights. Even if it is argued that hijab is a symbol of ‘patriarchy’, giving up the same should come from within the religion and more from the women. The attempt is rather to subjugate for the difference and in name of uniformity make minority confirm to majority.
Similar efforts of minority subjugation have happened through order of Gurugram administration to prevent minorities from performing Namaz at public places. Attacks on minorities in the name of conversion, cow vigilantism, love jihad, restrictions on foreign funding to carry charity-based activities, arresting Muslim youth in the name of CAA and communal violence in Delhi fall into similar light. Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) are also attempts at minority subjugation by bringing in religion as a deciding factor for citizenship. While ‘Triple talaq’ was an attempt at targeting Muslim men, hijab issue is at targeting Muslim women.
In preventing ‘hijab’ in educational institutions also lies attempts at creating a majoritarian domination. The shouting of ‘Jai Shriram’ slogans and preventing girls from entering the institution are efforts at ‘terrorising’ the minority and harassing them. Pressure on school managements to prevent entry for the girls wearing ‘hijab’, hooliganism by saffron clad ‘Hindutva’ mobs stopping entry are guided by majoritarianism. The broader attempt is to impose codes which subscribe to that enforced by majority. While the state ruled by Hindutva forces initiate policies for the same, Hindutva mobs come forward to enforce the same through use of force. Similarly, any state actions related to cow protection or religious conversion gets used by the foot soldiers of Hindutva to impose majoritarianism.
Keeping practices or symbolic representations as Muslims out of public spaces is an open attempt. These could be related to religious prayers such as performing namaz in public places, dress codes such as hijab being worn in educational institutions, festivals such as bakrid being used to propagate it as a violent festival, names of cities being changed from typical Muslim to Hindu names, importance of tourist monuments of architectural importance such as Taj Mahal being reduced as it is seen as representing Muslims etc. So, hijab in this issue becomes a Muslim representation which needs to be kept out of visuals and out of public spaces.
Hijab ban is being opposed through protests across the state where students are demanding allowing of hijab in classrooms. These protests are a battle at winning back rights and dignity at a time when there is intimidation by Hindu supremacist forces. The resistance by Muslim students need to be welcomed not because that these should continue forever but because the choice should be left to Muslim women. Many Muslim majority countries too have banned hizab in public spaces like Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, headcover is a not must for Muslim women. However, these cannot come in a manner that comes as a supremacist majoritarian imposition and threaten the rights as minorities.
There has been international response opposing imposition of Hizab. Malala Yousufzai has described this as effort at marginalisation of Muslim women. Refusing to let girls to schools go to schools in their hizabs is described as horrifying. Prof. Noam Chomsky described this as a form of Islamophobia where in its lethal form has turned 250 million Muslims into a persecuted minority. International religious freedom, a US body stated that hijab bans violate religious freedom. Organization for Islamic cooperation (OIC) described this as targeting Muslims and coming out of communal mindset.
The answer perhaps lies in 3 O’s – opposing efforts at subjugation, opposing overpowering & majoritarian domination, and opposing actions which create a religious apartheid system through isolation as Muslims. The protests should attempt at winning back spaces.
T Navin is a Researcher and works with an NGO