Education embroiled in cultural nightmare

Samarjit Kambam
The controversy of the hijab row has conflagrated from a latent spark into a blaze engulfing many parts of the Nation. The epicentre of this controversy is Udupi, a small coastal town of Karnataka when a group of schoolgirls of a Government run pre-university school were denied entry into their classrooms for wearing hijabs or headscarves at the beginning of January 2022.
The controversy started as a nascent protest by the schoolgirls against the college authority. The sorority of six alongwith their parents filed a petition at the Karnataka High Court on behalf of the aggrieved students. As a follow-up, many schools and colleges in Karnataka have not allowed students to enter their institutions wearing hijabs. With a hastily crafted order of the Karnataka Government decreeing a ban on hijab articulating that they disturb equality, integrity and public order in consonance with issuance of an order for a uniform dress code, the issue snowballed into a full-blown controversy wherein the impact can be felt throughout many States of northern India.
Things took an ugly turn when many girl students were made to take out their hijabs by the authorities outside their schools and colleges and made to sit in separate classes without being taught anything. Subsequently, agitations against Muslim girls wearing hijabs erupted, instilling fear among the students. As a cascading effect, many girl students were blocked at the road, strewn with bucketful of water whilst on their way to their institutions.
The protest which started small bombarded into a huge contentious issue and ascended into a higher orbit of national reckoning. While the Muslim sorority demanded their right to wear hijabs in educational institutions exhorting that the ban on hijab goes divergent to the Right to Freedom of Religion as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, the Hindu students hustled up a ‘pro-ban’ movement by boys wearing saffron shawls, turbans and other religious attires effecting a ‘slogan war’ between hijab wearing girls and saffron-shawl clad boys. The issue has boiled down to intricacies with the Muslim girls questioning whether the school/college authorities would dare to remove ‘bindis’ from the Hindu girls. The hijab debate is getting all the more intense with the issue raking up communal tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities.
The issue gained Nation-wide momentum as a controversial debate leaving the lawyers, theologians, rights activists and think-tanks scratching their heads on how to bring to a resolution. Prior to Assembly elections in five States, the political parties were also quick to jump into the fray to harness this emotional issue into vote catching strategies and polarise the debate with many politicians going for enactment of a Uniform Civil Code.
The issue has become a bone of contention between the Hindus and the Muslims herein referred to as the ‘majority’ and the ‘minority’. The minority perceives the hijab affair as a Hindutva project with the apprehension that it is part of an insidious plan to erase all Muslim traces in the country adding might to the Hindutva prowess.They have come out strongly that the Right to Freedom of Religion is enshrined in the Indian Constitution and portrays that it is a private right in a public place. The majority finds it hard to accept the hijab as it is seen as an object of defiance towards the majority by the minority. The minority projects that a ban on hijab is one way of subjugation by the majority. The majority has the apprehension that there is ‘Arabisation’ in India in tandem with globalisation. The gender activists espouse that the hijab ban is a sign of pro-modern female servility. Hardliners of a progressive society emphasise that religious attires are too prevalent in educational institutions and some restrictions are required to be made.
The Karnata High Court has been rummaging whether wearing of the hijab has gone beyond the preaching of Islam, whether it is an element of attire borne out of connotation to social etiquette, protocol and convention of the Muslims and not as a religious obligation. With the contentious issue wading through various twists and turns, the Court remained busy into digging up whether wearing of hijab, niqab and burqa is mentioned in the Quran and whether everything mentioned in the Quran are essential parts of the practice of Islam. Subsequently, the High Court of Karnataka passed an order on March 15th banning religious attires in Government degree colleges and regularisation of a uniform dress code.
As an aftermath, many aggrieved Muslim girl students along with their parents have piled up appeals to the Supreme Court challenging the Karnataka High Court’s March 15th verdict. Now the faith of the aggrieved students is left to the judicial wisdom of the Supreme Court.
Many of the girls find themselves stuck between the hammer and the anvil as they were not allowed to go to their educational institutions without wearing hijab by their parents while the authorities as per Court order are not allowing them to enter their institutions by donning a hijab. To many minority girls, education is a cherished dream. However, with the Hijab Row, education has become a sort of a cultural nightmare for them. The aggrieved girl students are awaiting with abated breath with the hope that the Supreme Court reaches its verdict by traversing through Constitutional rights such as right to equality, non-discrimination, freedom of practice of religion alongwith the anticipation that their right to education is not in peril.

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