130 women’s groups warn hijab could be new pretext for mob attacks in India

New Delhi, February 11 (KMS):  Like cow, namaaz and skull-cap, hijab is only the latest pretext to impose apartheid on and attack Muslim women and the ban on this Islamic practice is a hate crime, said prominent woman groups and activists while expressing solidarity with the students protesting for their right to wear the Islamic headscarves in Karnataka schools.

A statement, signed by around 2,000 individuals and 130 organisations, read: “The video from Mandya, Karnataka of a group of men wearing saffron stoles surrounding a hijab-wearing Muslim woman and heckling her is a warning of how the hijab can easily become the next pretext for mob attacks on Muslims.”

All India Democratic Women’s Association, All India Progressive Women’s Association, National Alliance of People’s Movements, National Federation of Indian Women and People’s Union for Civil Liberties are some of the prominent groups among the signatories of the petition. There are also prominent individuals like Supreme Court advocate Varinda Grover, women activist Kavita Krishnan and student activist Safoora Zargar, who signed the statement.

It all started with a group of hijab-wearing woman students protesting against the hijab ban in their college. The protest went on at the college gates for quite some time, but the college authorities remained unmoved by the aggrieved students’ pleadings to let them in.

As the dispute came to a crunch, the students moved the Karnataka High Court with a petition asserting that wearing hijab is their fundamental right. While the matter is sub judice pending hearing, the judge referred the case to a larger bench.

Citing different religious practices being carried out in government institutions across the country, including schools and colleges, the signatories asserted that the constitution mandates nurturing of plurality rather than imposing cultural uniformity on the plural country.

“It is not hijab that provoked the ongoing educational disruptions. It is Hindu-supremacist outfits which disrupted harmony by demonstrating with saffron stoles to demand a ban on hijabs. Banning both saffron stoles and hijabs is not a fair or just solution because unlike hijabs worn by some Muslim women, the only purpose of the saffron stoles in this instance were to achieve a ban on the hijab and intimidate Muslim women,” they noted.

The groups also criticised the decision of the college authorities to make the Hijabi students sit in separate classrooms terming it “apartheid”, a racist practice of discriminations against black people in South Africa which was abolished.

“Islamophobic hate crimes have been joined at the hip to patriarchal hate crimes against Muslim and Hindu women – by the same Hindu-supremacist perpetrators,” the groups observed.

They are incensed by the Karnataka government’s order into the call records of hijab-wearing students.

“Girls and women should be able to access education without being shamed or punished for their clothes. Educational institutions should pay attention to what is inside students’ heads, not what’s on them. We stand with every woman who is told that she can’t enter college because she’s wearing jeans or shorts – or because she’s wearing a hijab,” they declared their solidarity.

They demanded stern action against the organisations and individuals which led and joined the mob in heckling the Muslim woman of Mandya and asked governments to alert police and public to the need to foil any attempt to intimidate hijab-wearing women.

Earlier, Muslim groups issued statements criticising the decision to ban hijab. All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMBPL) described the hijab ban as interference in the personal freedom.

“Every class should have the freedom to choose the dress of their choice. Secularism in India does not mean any individual or group should not reveal their religious identity. Yes, it is a matter of secularism that the government should not impose the identity of a particular religion on all citizens without its consent.  Therefore, the Karnataka government should not order the wearing of any particular dress in government schools and should not prohibit any group from wearing the dress of its choice,” said AIMBPL’s general secretary Khalid Saifullah Rahmani in a statement.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s secretary Rahmathunnisa expressed solidarity with the female students and their parents who are protesting peacefully against an injustice. She called schools’ move against the fundamental right to profess and practice one’s religion and adhere to the dress code subscribed therein.

Full text of women groups’ statement:

  1. The ban on hijabs in classrooms and campuses, that has begun in coastal Karnataka and threatens to spread to other states, is a hate crime. The Hindu supremacists lynch/segregate/boycott Muslims on various pretexts – beef, Muslims’ collective prayers, azaan, the skullcap, Urdu language. Hijab is only the latest pretext to impose apartheid on and attack Muslim women, following on the heels of Hindu supremacists holding multiple “online auctions” of Muslim women and making speeches calling for their sexual and reproductive enslavement.
  2. The video from Mandya, Karnataka of a saffron-stole wearing mob of men surrounding a hijab-wearing Muslim woman and heckling her is a warning of how the hijab can easily become the next pretext for mob attacks on Muslims.
  3. We firmly believe that the Constitution mandates schools and colleges to nurture plurality, not uniformity. Uniforms in such institutions are meant to minimise differences between students of different and unequal economic classes. They are not intended to impose cultural uniformity on a plural country. This is why Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans not only in the classroom but even in the police and Army. This is why Hindu students wear bindi/pottu/tilak/Vibhuti with school and college uniforms without comment or controversy. And likewise, Muslim women should be able to wear hijabs with their uniforms.
  4. Rulebooks in at least one of the Udupi colleges allowed Muslim women to wear hijabs to college in Udupi as long as they matched the colour of the uniform. It is not hijabs that provoked the ongoing educational disruptions. It is Hindu-supremacist outfit which disrupted harmony by demonstrating with saffron stoles to demand a ban on hijabs. Banning both saffron stoles and hijabs is not a fair or just solution because unlike hijabs worn by some Muslim women, the only purpose of the saffron stoles in this instance were to achieve a ban on the hijab and intimidate Muslim women.
  5. Making hijabi women sit in separate classrooms or move from colleges of their choice to Muslim-run colleges is nothing but apartheid. Hindu supremacist groups in coastal Karnataka have, since 2008, been unleashing violence to enforce such apartheid, attacking togetherness between Hindu and Muslim classmates, friends, lovers. It must be remembered that such violence has been accompanied by equally violent attacks on Hindu women who visit pubs, wear “western” clothes, or love/marry Muslim men. Islamophobic hate crimes have been joined at the hip to patriarchal hate crimes against Muslim and Hindu women – by the same Hindu-supremacist perpetrators.
  6. We are appalled that the Karnataka Home Minister has ordered an investigation into the phone records of hijab-wearing Muslim women, to “probe their links” with “terrorism groups”. Till yesterday Muslims were being criminalised and accused of “terrorism” and “conspiracy” for protesting a discriminatory citizenship law, or indeed for protesting against any form of discrimination. Now Muslim women wearing hijab is being treated as a conspiracy – in a country where women of many Hindu and Sikh communities cover their heads in much the same way, for much the same reasons; and even India’s first woman PM and President covered their heads with their saris without exciting comment or controversy.
  7. Girls and women should be able to access education without being shamed or punished for their clothes. Educational institutions should pay attention to what is inside students’ heads not what’s on them. We stand with every woman who is told that she can’t enter college because she’s wearing jeans or shorts – or because she’s wearing a hijab.
  8. We unequivocally stand in solidarity with Muslim women whether or not they wear hijabs, to be treated with respect and to enjoy the full gamut of rights. We affirm that the Karnataka Muslim women students wearing hijabs are doing so of their own agency, and this agency must be respected.
  9. What women choose to wear whether they choose to cover or uncover, is a matter of ‘choice’. It cannot be a measure of modesty and immodesty. This is true for patriarchal imposition of religious practices across the spectrum. Stop trying to tell women what they must wear in order to be respected – instead respect women no matter what they wear. If you think a woman “exposes herself too much” or does not “dress like a good Hindu/Muslim/Christian/Sikh woman”, the problem lies with your patriarchal gaze and sense of entitlement. Feminist and democratic principles lie in respecting that every woman charts her own path in fighting patriarchy, and deciding what practices are in keeping with her faith and which ones to reject.
  10. We demand stern action against the organisations and individuals who led and participated in the mob that heckled a Muslim woman in Mandya. All over the country, we ask governments to alert police and public to the need to deter any attempt to intimidate hijab-wearing women.

We salute the courage of the Muslim women students in Karnataka who are bravely fighting this battle for dignity and rights in the face of intimidation by Hindu-supremacist thugs backed by the state. We are glad to hear from these students that several of their Hindu and Christian friends are supporting their struggle – and we appeal to students and citizens all over the country to resist any attempt to impose misogynist and Islamophophic “dress codes” on students and women.

%d bloggers like this: