Friday, August 19th, 2022 17:05:30

Hijab: A Display of Religious Jingoism?

By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
Updated: March 7, 2022 9:57 am

The notion of hijab is oppressive; it originated in the British Colonial narratives of the late 19th century in Egypt. The narratives considered veiling and hijab as a sign of the oppression of women. The Islamic societies adopted the hijab as Islamic symbol to counter colonialism. From the colonial period in Egypt until the present the veil and hijab have been used in most parts of the Middle East as a symbol and reflection of the dominant political ideologies of a society. Thus, hijab has always had political connotations that have varied over time throughout the world including India, Western, Arabic and other Muslim nations. It is, therefore, not true that Islamic law makes it obligatory for a Muslim girl or woman to abide by the rules of hijab. The Quaran24.31 obliges men to observe modesty – “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.” Thus, hijab is a means of oppression of Muslim Women. Besides, it has also been found that the veil or hijab is chosen only by those girls or women who do not understand women’s rights.

The heated controversy has made it explicit that India needs to defend its educational institutions including schools and colleges by the preservation of its democratic, secular and republic traditions. Let me recount an event as was narrated to me by a missionary teacher. It is about 15 years ago, in a high school in Utter Pradesh, when three 16-year-old girls started to wear hijab under their male classmate’s pressure, the teacher had to explain to him that the girls’ scarves were disturbing the class, and that if he did not get the girls to remove them, he would be expelled. The student agreed but said “In 15 years, it will be we who will tell you what to do.” Should we allow his prediction to be fulfilled? or Should we initiate measures that confirm a secular rule in Indian society? Isn’t it really funny to confirm that hijab is a part of a narrative space and identity of a Muslim Women?

Further, the best education for a country is multicultural education which provides equal opportunities to a child to succeed regardless of his/her race, religion, gender, ethnicity, language and cultural background. Such an education discourages ‘othering’ and promotes integration. The practice of wearing mask has encouraged a divisive tendency, and has been banned even in the European nation such on France whose population comprises a substantial portion of Muslims.

Women in general are the torchbearers of the advancement of a community. When this large section of society is subordinated to the male chauvinists by curbing their freedom, it affects the growth of a community in several ways. Because of community pressure, women adopt visible markers of community identity on their person and in their behaviour. Their lives, morality and movement in public spaces are under constant scrutiny and control. A gender-based fear of the public experienced to some degree by all women, is magnified manifold in the case of Muslim Women. The lines between ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe spaces’ become rigid. The community and its women withdraw into the safety of familiar orthodoxies, reluctant to participate in the project of modernity, which threatens to blur community boundaries. It has culminated into most of Indian Muslim women’s confinement to the boundaries of home. The survey shows that the hijab like orthodoxies have severely curtailed the freedom of Muslim women in India.

Hijab is not an innocent practice of faith, but a display of religious jingoism. The protest is no longer about Muslim girls being denied access to education but Muslim girls becoming unwitting pawns of political forces whose ideology and ideas are in quite contrast to the ideas that define India in our Constitution. Women brought up in conservative Muslim homes are taught from the day one that veiling themselves is an act of piety and they should accept this unquestioningly. Taken to its logical conclusion, the idea shall bring into being Taliban, Iran and the awful ISIS caliphate.

When the Prophet urged women to dress modestly, he might not have realized that this modesty would be defined and determined by men. This is what has happened, and there is no sense in pretending that wearing a hijab is a matter of choice (as proclaimed by Priyanka Gandhi); It is not. That is why the sight of young women demandingthe right to wear a hijab is distressing. Islam has given the world some fine ideas about equality and brotherhood, but the treatment of women is not one of them. Since India is not an Islamic nation, Muslim women should be encouraged to rid themselves of their robes and headgear instead of being encouraged to fight for their ‘right’ to wear a hijab. The hijab has become the subject of a fierce debate in India. It all began last month when six teenagers at a government-run college in Karnataka’s Udupi district began protesting after they were debarred from classes for wearing headscarves. Now the issue whether Muslim girls and women in Karnataka can wear the hijab in school and college will be decided by the State’s High Court.

The row has taken a political hue as the ruling BJP has rightly stood strongly in support of uniform related rules being enforced by educational institutions, calling the headscarf, a religious symbol, while the opposition has come out in support of Muslim girls. As a matter of fact, our issues are to be considered and resolved in our constitutional framework and mechanism as well as our democratic ethos and polity. In Karnataka, the hijabists are supported by the violent, jihadist organization- Popular Front of India (PFI). It has an army of jihadists whose stated aim is to take on what they call ‘Hindu, Fascist Forces’. The PFI embodies the radical Islam that has been directly responsible for most attacks of jihadi terrorism in the World and has given birth to the Taliban government that now rules Afghanistan.

The PFI have convinced the Muslim girl protesters that the Constitution of India has given them the right to freedom of religion and worship. Certainly, it gives them this right. What it does not give is the right for forces like the PFI to spread their violent, ugly and divisive ideology unchecked. The spread of radical Islam in Southern Indian States has snatched the right of Muslim girls to speak to strangers unless they sought permission from the local Maulvi; usually, the permission is not given or Maulvi remains elusive.

After 9/11 attacks, radical Islam has spread exponentially in Indian Muslim Communities as well. Before PM Naredra Modi took over, they said “it was a response to Islamophobia and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Now they say “it is in response to Hindu, Fascist Forces.” What is evident is that these developments are dangerous for national safety and security and need to be stopped with a firm hand.


By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal

(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)

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