Personal Right to Wear Hijab Can’t be Gate-crashed into Public Institutions
Joining issue with the controversy raised about the right of women to wear Hijab in schools and colleges, Gandhi family scion and Congress General Secretary Mrs. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted: “Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat (veil), a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear. This right is guaranteed by the Indian constitution. Stop harassing women”. Her comment implies that, if they wish and like, women can go to a school or college in a swimsuit, a burqa, or any other dress they wish to.
We also speak of gender equality in every sphere of life. As a corollary to this rightful opinion, it means that liberal leaders, like her, would also respect a man’s “right to decide what” he “wants to wear” as this “right is guaranteed by the Indian constitution”. Tinkering with this right would not only amount to “harassing” men but also be an act of discrimination against them and a flagrant violation of the provisions of the constitution. Thus, the school and college boys have the freedom to go to their alma mater wearing just a langot, underwear, a pair of bunyan, nicker, and even a half-pant.
If this freedom of both the sexes was respected, the present turmoil in the student community would evaporate altogether, instantly. It will add up to parity and generate a greater sense of amity and camaraderie between both the sexes
Moreover, why should this freedom be restricted to school and college students only? This should also extend to the rights of men and women working in other vocations and avocations, like the courts, lawyers, doctors, staff working in health services, drivers and conductors, police, security forces, hotel staff, airlines, and the like. How can the right guaranteed by the constitution to decide what one wants to wear be denied to other sections of Indian citizens?
Some people are citing the instance of the Sikhs who are allowed to wear turbans everywhere. It needs to be understood that the turban (pagdi} worn by the Sikh community as per the religious edicts is not its exclusive headgear; it is worn by choice by almost every section of society. It is proudly put on by a bridegroom and his relatives on the occasion of a marriage ceremony in most of the castes and communities in almost every part of the country. But the burqa and hijab have just a communal tinge as these are donned by Muslim women only.
The current controversy was initially generated by Muslim students of various schools and colleges in Karnataka, asserting their right to come to school in hijab defying the dress code prescribed by their educational institutions definitely strikes a communal chord, particularly in view of the ongoing assembly elections in five states of the country. These students had been putting on the school and college dress decided by these institutions. Why has the insistence of Muslim women to don it surfaced at this time? This virus has now spread to other states too. When a student seeks and gets admission, he/she agrees to abide by the dress code and other disciplines prescribed by the institution. If any restriction is not acceptable to the student or the family, they are free to try their luck elsewhere where the conditions are conducive to their liking. No student and his family have a right to impose their caste or community edicts on any institution. Every school has its own morning prayer. Will that institute have to change it only because a minuscule minority of students objects to it and wants a prayer it wishes to sing?
The country has many educational institutions run by various religious bodies — public schools by Christian organisations, Sanatan Dharma Sabhas, Arya Samaj, Muslim, social establishments, and others. All these educational establishments are open to admission to one and all irrespective of their caste and creed. The same is true of the schools and colleges run by state governments. Every institute has its own dress code. This provides their students with a distinct identity of its own. It also eliminates any caste, creed, social and economic disparities among the students that do become prominent in the absence of a dress regulation. It would be a heterogeneously awkward scene in a class of a school or college where every student — boy or girl — is there in a dress of his/her own individual choice.
The situation is analogous to a person getting his child admitted to a public school with English as the medium of instruction but insisting on his ward’s constitutional right to be taught in a language of his choice — Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, or any other language of the country. Or a devout Hindu visiting the Vatican City wishing to conduct his puja and perform a havan in a church demanding protection of his human and minority rights.
The present squabble makes one wonder whether the students go to their school or college to learn or to promote attires signifying their religious identity of differences. Instead of creating scenes, the best course remains to leave the institution that does not cater to their tastes and join the one that suits them.
It needs to be understood that the personal law may be the ultimate for the followers and faithfuls within the four walls of the person or the contours of the society but it remains and remains personal to them. It cannot be imposed on others and the public institutions which are open for all. Outside one’s family and society, it is the Constitution that is the superior law of all, no questions raised and asked.
Instead of generating an unnecessary controversy over such matters, it would be wise if people get their wards admitted in an educational institution that caters to their religious, linguistic and regional susceptibilities. This will eliminate the type of turmoil that is now being raised with political and electoral mindset.
By Amba Charan Vashishth
(The writer is a Delhi- based political analyst and commentator.)