Despite all their tranquillity, even cemeteries have divisions: dead, reserved, overlapped and overfilled. The #hijabrow started mid-January over hijab-clad students of Pre-University College Udupi not being allowed to take their exams on the pretext of breaking the uniform code. From this initial discriminatory action ensued a series of actions: protests by dissenting students, parents and activists; saffron bombardment by Hindutva youth, and an interim order by Karnataka HC banning any religious clothing like the hijab or saffron scarf.
Imagining this situation as a simplistic division over uniforms makes us think of Indian secularism as a utopian, easily fixable dream.
Sadly, #hijabrow is not a unidimensional distraction but a realisation that we are stuck in a Hindutva horror. After constant protesting from voices all across India and the powerful actions by women in Karnataka, colleges whipped out a negotiation of separate classrooms for women wearing hijab. Such solutions acknowledge that the issues at hand are systemic, and normalising divisional practices iterate that divide-and-rule ideologies are the sole way of battling issues.
The world witnessed action from Indian Muslim women in full fervour during the 2020 anti-CAA protests, largely to be hassled and trolled by state-run forces for alleged extremism. Then came the apps like Sulli Bai selling Muslim women, and now the attack on Hijabi students. All this while Indian Muslims are routinely lynched, publicly humiliated, stripped of their clothes, and forced to repeat Hindu chants. While this is undoubtedly an attack on Muslim lives, the way these actions are built on the shoulders of Indian Muslim women particularly, is unignorable. Even the support of student organisations like Campus Front of India and Twitter presence of the girls in the forefront is deemed as propaganda and under tireless scrutiny by the right-wing online presence.
The rhetoric of “dress codes” talked about by the colleges not only stands in ignorance with longstanding fundamental rights but also concretises the Hindutva logic of a delirious Muslim. Time immemorial, the hijab has been a sign of backwardness, shame, inertness, and illiteracy of women in Islam. In the Indian multicultural dream, shouldn’t people with “religious dresses” be the epitome of Indian secularism? Or were our constitutional values too fragile to start with? The popular perception of a veiled woman living in a harem constructs a homogenous identity of the Muslim woman: the one without a voice of dissent.
Educational spaces are now adding values of extremism, mindless rebellion, and political hostility as signifiers to the hijab, thus recreating apartheid segregations hitherto used by Nazi Germany, Israel, and South Africa. In a world where women who are not upper-caste Hindus already have to struggle more, the fascist regime of today makes the process even more traumatic for minorities. When the judiciary asks those struggling to wait and trust the legal process, it enforces the mainstream liberal idea that minorities should practice radical kindness and forgiveness in exchange for genocide. It expresses islamophobia simply as a “lack of dialogue and engagement,” when in reality it is etched in structurally violent laws like the one against religious dressing.
In a happy, happy utopia, everything would be fine with a sheer whoosh of the High Court reiterating the citizens’ religious expressions, but we are living in ghost-like times. Like cemeteries, what seems overtly peaceful under the garb of the world’s largest democracy, runs on divisions puppeteered by the state. We wait and watch to see what comes after this and manifests in face of state elections in other BJP-run constituencies. Will the nation realise the ignominy of the segregation in place, or will it just pass this off as a necessary move like several other laws already in place?
Misbah Ansari is a Gender Studies and Media student at the University of Sydney.
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