Hijab and beyond: Karnataka must not make the same mistake as Kashmir


Karnataka has been rocked by protests against the government school’s mandate which bans the wearing of hijab by female Muslim students in classrooms as it violates the common uniform policy of such schools. At first glance, the mandate may appear to be a violation of the freedom granted by the Constitution of India – the “choice” or freedom of a woman to wear what she wants, including the hijab, and that ” girls’ education” should be the priority. priority and she should not be hampered by what she decides to wear in pursuit of her education.

All of these arguments may sound very convincing, but they are expressed from a vantage point – that of living in a secular society. The same seemingly compelling narrative falls flat when applied to Muslim-majority enclaves like the Kashmir Valley.

There is a concept of modesty in Islam, which has been interpreted differently for Muslim women in different parts of the world depending on local culture, climate and traditions. The Middle Eastern notions of ‘hijab’ and ‘niqab’ that have now pervaded all Muslim societies across the world, including the Kashmir Valley and the rest of India, are just a 30-year-old import. and were not part of the clothing culture of Muslims. South Asian communities. There was only the ‘burqa’, the most extreme form of body veil prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, but its use was limited and restricted to older women or women from upper caste Muslim Ashraf families d elite, like Syeds.

An average Pasmanda caste Muslim woman working from Kashmir to Kerala and from Gujarat to Bengal wore her own version of modest religious Muslim coverings, which varied from covering her head with dupattas, sarees or, in the case of the Kashmir Valley , a separate scarf. The kind of ‘hijab’ and ‘niqab’ we see today, with the younger generation of Muslim girls wearing them across India, is an extraterrestrial outfit, which has nothing to do with our Muslim culture. local from Kashmir or Karnataka. It is part of the Orthodox and Puritan Muslim traditions of the Middle East.

In the valley of Kashmir, representatives of Kashmiri Muslim culture have been struggling for many years against the forced cultural imposition of the Arab costume culture on Kashmiri society. Our Kashmiri Muslim mothers were gracefully and modestly dressed in accordance with Islamic standards even before those conservative Middle Eastern veils appeared on the scene three decades ago.

I am also not comfortable with the misuse of the argument of constitutional freedom to justify the encouragement to wear the ‘hijab’ or the ‘niqab’ because our Indian Constitution does not encourage us to promote orthodoxy, social and cultural conservatism and religious puritanism. Our Indian Constitution encourages us to seek modernity, progressivism and scientific temperament and the “hijab” or the “niqab” does not exceed these criteria.

It is also strange that those who defend “hijab” as a constitutional right of an Indian Muslim woman remain unabashedly silent on many other things that various Muslim communities all over India continue to do, which can also be considered as “unconstitutional” and yet their practice remains unabated. In Kashmir, for example, Kashmiri Muslims practice untouchability against Hindus and Sikhs. We have different utensils for non-Muslims in our homes. We discriminate against Muslims from the Pasmanda caste and treat them with indignity and disdain. We even treat our Muslim Gujjars and Bakarwals worse than animals. Isn’t there a saying that if a Kashmiri Muslim meets a snake and a Gujjar Muslim, he should kill the Gujjar Muslim and not the snake. Is this behavior constitutional? Or even Islamic?

Karnataka Muslims who stubbornly defend the “hijab” and “niqab” should come to the Kashmir valley and see how the penetration of these orthodox, conservative and regressive cultural practices has destroyed the relaxed, secular, joyful and carefree culture of Kashmir . Kashmir has suffered some of the worst impacts of religious orthodoxy and puritanism and Kashmiri Muslim women have been its worst victims. Such is the pathetic state of Orthodoxy in Kashmir that in 2014 when devastating floods hit the Kashmir valley, all Orthodox religious Muftis and Maulanas blamed it on young Kashmiri Muslim girls wearing jeans. Is this the Karnataka that Kannada Muslims yearn to see for themselves?

Finally, I also want to address the oft-used “choice of a Muslim woman” argument to justify the encouragement to wear the “hijab” and “niqab”. The very misused word “choice” is not a choice but a “fabricated choice” which is the result of years of subjective, biased, orthodox and non-secular upbringing to which most Muslim children from Muslim families modern with a strong influence of Arab culture are brought. If a young Muslim woman raised in such a non-secular setting later wears the ‘hijab’ or ‘niqab’ depending on what the world perceives as her ‘choice’, it is not really her choice, but a ‘fabricated choice’. from Orthodoxy. education.

READ ALSO | Lesson from Iran: When it starts with the hijab, it doesn’t end too well for women’s empowerment

I am particularly disappointed with liberal Hindus, who may think they are supporting a young Indian Muslim woman’s ‘choice’ to wear what she wants to wear, but are in fact unwittingly causing serious damage to Indian Muslim society. , preventing him from embracing modernity and progressiveness. Supporting such bigoted and regressive measures also renders untenable the position taken by a tiny minority of progressive and liberal Muslims like us, who fight to uproot Muslim orthodoxy in our communities.

I wish the Muslim community in Karnataka had shown even one percent enthusiasm for the issues of caste discrimination among Kannada Muslims, including the pathetic living conditions of the Dalit Kannada Muslim community, the “Mehtars”, who continue to live in abject poverty. and are forced to work as manual garbage collectors to this day.

In conclusion, I would also like to state that Babasaheb Ambedkar, who drafted the Constitution of India, was a very progressive man who stood for the equal rights of all women, including Muslim women. He was specifically against the practice of adorned veils by Indian Muslim women. Nothing could be more tragic than to see the Muslim community of Karnataka using the excuse of the Constitution to justify the “hijab” and the “niqab”.

Javed Beigh is General Secretary of the People’s Democratic Front (secular). His can be followed @javedbeigh. The views expressed by the author are his own and do not represent the position of this publication.

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