Her right to wear | The Indian Express


For more than a month, seven female students from a government college in Udupi, Karnataka, have not been allowed to attend classes because they wear the hijab. College authorities argue that wearing a headscarf violates the dress code, even though the young women showed up to classes in college uniform. Karnataka’s education minister called it an act of “indiscipline”, arguing that there is no place for religion in an educational institution. The college principal said “uniformity” did not allow him to make exceptions. Both are flimsy arguments given the sanction they wish to justify – closing the doors of education to students. They are particularly indefensible given the way Indian law and cultural common sense deal with diversity of religious expression.

The Constitution guarantees citizens the fundamental right to practice their religion, which can only be restricted if it violates public order or the requirements of public health or morals. In 2016, the Kerala High Court allowed female students to take an all-India medical entrance test while wearing the hijab on the grounds that it was an “essential part” of religious practice for women. petitioners. The daily secularism practiced in the country is largely unperturbed by the multiplicity of religious symbols; rare is the school or college that does not celebrate multiple religious holidays or sees, say, a Sikh boy wearing a turban or sacred threads on another student’s wrist as a challenge to discipline. In this, Indian social life is far from the rigidity of Western conceptions of secularism such as French secularism, which insists on a monotonous uniformity of public life.

It is important to see the disproportionate reaction to the hijab in a classroom in the context of the disturbing wave of attacks on minorities in Karnataka by emboldened Hindu militiamen, from raids on churches to the targeting of Muslim men in interfaith relations . The assertion of violent majoritarianism draws its oxygen from the ruling BJP government’s divisive laws on cow slaughter, interfaith marriage and conversion. The state’s increasingly close attachment to identification with the majority religion spills over into the social sphere, leading to demands for the purification of the public sphere from all markers of Muslim identity. To assert that discouraging the practice of hijab, in this case, is a feminist act is disingenuous. Such conversations are possible in an atmosphere of trust and equality, when all religions are open to criticism of reason, and not when minority faiths are daily demonized. This is discrimination that violates the law of the land. Udupi Government College must refrain from conspiring in such violation and allow the girls to return to class.

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