Sociology Current

Hijab Row

Hijab Row

Published on:
04 Nov 2023

Written by:
Pranay Aggarwal

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The News:

The Karnataka High Court upheld the ban that restricted students from wearing the hijab in classrooms

Sociological analysis:

  • Suman K Jha quotes Andre Beteille from his work “Equality and Universality: Essays in Social and Political Theory,” “Every modern institution has a framework of more or less formal rules that define rights and obligations of its individual members and specify sanctions to uphold them. No hospital or university or bank could operate successfully if its members sought to assert their formal rights or to have their obligations formally specified at every turn”.

  • Thus, he believes that it is a classic case of manufacturing a false sense of hurt among India Muslims, and fueling relative deprivation. He further quotes Stouffer, who first studied the phenomenon of relative deprivation, and found that it is easy to manufacture a sense of hurt in educated, young minds.

  • Malala Yousafzai believes that the court is stripping women of their agency, reducing complex and intimate choices to simple binary ones.

  • Sundar Sarukkai writes that the sudden spurt of righteous indignation and political activism from a section of students in Kundapur, Udupi and a few other colleges in Karnataka regarding the hijab is politically motivated opportunism.

  • Razia Patel believes that conservative and reactionary forces among Hindus and Muslims appear to be the major beneficiaries of the controversy over wearing hijab to schools.

  • She believes that such issues being the traps or detours laid by these forces, marginalized communities must choose their battlegrounds wisely. Instead of diverting the energy to the sectarian agenda of enforcing a dress code and perpetuating marginalization, Muslim women’s movement should uphold the “Shaheen Bagh Spirit” of upholding constitutional values and unitedly fighting for rights and equality.

  • Ghazala Jamil writes that many women who choose to wear the veil do not feel that it limits them from living a full life as human beings or active citizens. Just as women who observe pariah in different forms are diverse, so are meanings they read and inscribe into their practices.

  • Imtiaz Ahmad writes that wearing of the veil among the Arabs, much after the spread of Islam was more a matter of social status than a religious injunction. It was only later, when western colonial rhetoric began touting the veil as an expression of Muslim backwardness, that it began to be seen as a symbol of retaliation against colonial arrogance.

  • Yogendra Yadav thus reaffirms this by adding that, the meaning of any form of self-expression must take into account the intention of the actor(s). We cannot assume what a dress means, unless we know what it means to the person who chooses to wear it. What is enslavement for one person can be rebellion for another, or for the same person at another time.

  • Nivedita Menon thus, writes that there is nothing natural about a uniform. A dress code is about uniform application of what is considered culturally “normal” at any given point. The dominant cultural group gets to define this normalcy. Hence, this normalcy must be constantly revised. For example, till a few years ago, skirt was the uniform for nurses, till they protested and got it changed to salvar-kameez. Every society negotiates with the varying prevalent cultural practices to define a new normal.

  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5, the share of Muslim girl students in the 6-17 age group attending schools in 2019-20 was significantly lower than their Hindu and Christian counterparts in almost all States except Kerala. Thus, Muslim girls can ill afford to stay back from schools due to family pressure due to any religious controversy.

  • Ghazala Jamil also believes that Muslim feminists questioning the mainstream feminist movement do not aim to weaken the women’s movement, but they are rather strengthening the demand by complicating the discussions to include differences in women’s experiences along the lines of class, religion, and caste.

  • Anandita Tayal believes that the object behind a uniform might also be to create a sense of belongingness and association with the school, but association with school as an organization and a group does not mean the relinquishment of one’s other associations. If the school as a group has the right to choose how people associate with it should dress, it is difficult to imagine why a religious group is any different. And if both groups have this right, it is unclear why they cannot coexist.

  • She suggests that school policy can achieve its purpose by mandating its uniform, without excluding the clothes one chooses to wear as a part of their right to association, as long as it does not disrupt uniformity in colors or is not an expression of class inequality, etc. In India, this practice is already followed in the case of other religious clothing like Sikh turbans, which are often brought within the ambit of the school uniform by prescribing a color

  • Finally, French philosopher, Etienne Balibar, argues that Europeans using the veil, or other clothing items with aim to cover, to project oppression of women is an instrumental use. This instrumentalisation is used as an additional means to attack the entire Muslim community in situations where they are already discriminated against. In this instrumentalisation, Muslim women are doubly stigmatized – first as women and then as Muslims. In most cases, such rhetoric is deployed by a majority that chooses to remain silent about the ills of its own social realm.