From Hijab Ban to Bulli Bai/Sulli Offers: Muslim Women’s Assertion Against Hindutva

During the last weeks of 2021, six muslim girls were arrested to enter their classrooms at a pre-university college in Udupi, Karnataka, because they wore a hijab. The incident sparked statewide protests and the case went to the Karnataka High Court, where a full court on March 15, 2022 ruled that “wearing the hijab by Muslim women does not constitute not an essential religious practice in the Islamic faith”.

The political assertion and resistance of Muslim women against a draconian political order did not begin with the hijab dispute in Udupi. The CAA-NRC protests against the granting of religion-based citizenship to Shaheen Bagh in December 2019, and the infamous ‘Bulli/Sulli deals’ app on the virtual space that auctioned off women Muslim women in recent times have seen them hurt and wronged but still refusing to go to bed without a fight.

In the last weeks of 2021, six Muslim girls were arrested for entering their classrooms at a pre-university college in Udupi, Karnataka, because they were wearing a hijab. The incident sparked statewide protests and the case went to the Karnataka High Court, where a full court on March 15, 2022 ruled that “wearing the hijab by Muslim women does not constitute not an essential religious practice in the Islamic faith”.

Conversations with some of the Muslim women targeted in the recent hijab ban row and anti-Muslim apps reveal their pain, struggle and defiance against a government they see as totalitarian.

Read also : Karnataka Hijab Row: Clothing, Secularism and a Nation in Danger

On the Hijab ban

Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, founder of the Human Solidarity Foundation and associate professor of community medicine at Hamdard, spoke in an interview about the use of “flimsy excuses” to restrict the freedom of the Muslim community.

Shaikh saw the Hijab ban incident as a continuation of the draconian “Ordinance on the Prohibition of Illegal Religious Conversion” or Love-Jihad Law, the furor sparked by customary Friday prayers outdoors in Gurugram and the dictation of dietary practices on religious minorities, part of a larger plan to reduce Muslims to second class citizens.

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On the schism between the Hijab and the uniform, Shaikh is of the opinion that “there should be no uniforms in schools”. Uniforms lead to conformity and take over the idea of ​​the individual, superimposing on it the idea of ​​a singular group identity. Shaikh mentions tribal communities who have tattoos and piercings on their bodies which would prevent them from entering educational institutions and deprive them of education. The child then has the choice between culture and education.

Muslim women, according to Shaikh, face double oppression, from both ends of the spectrum: liberals and radicals. The liberals, states Shaikh, are concerned with the “conditioning” of Muslim women to wear the hijab, while the Taliban are concerned with the imposition of the hijab. Both viewpoints wrest the notion of choice from the Muslim woman.

The other extreme end of the argument can be interpreted as reflecting the Talibani view: the Hindutva versus hijab argument. Hindutva forces have banned Muslim women from entering educational establishments because of their dress, which until a few days ago was never an important point.

Why the hijab ban at a university in Karnataka is an attack on the fundamental right to religion
In the High Court of Karnataka, a plenary session of March 15, 2022 ruled that “the wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not constitute an essential religious practice in the Islamic faith”. Image source: Scroll.in

Against the establishment of uniforms, Shaikh goes on to speak out against the biased understanding of using the French idea of ​​secularism to justify banning the hijab in India. French understanding of secularism removes religion from all aspects of public life. It is an unthinkable notion in India because “the religion is rooted in education in terms of Saraswati Puja, Gayatri mantra and teachers coming with mangal sutras, sarees and bindis”, observes Sheikh. It is an unconstitutional, thoughtless and hypocritical decision.

Schools should have engaged them (students) in a form of debate where differing viewpoints could have their say in a more civilized way, Shaikh says.

Muslim women journalists: wronged, angry and resistant

Sana, a former student of AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, and journalist, spoke about her auction on the “Buli Bai/Sulli Offers” platform, such as dealing with “mental trauma”, and then subsequently, deactivating Instagram and LinkedIn. Memories attached to a photograph, which before was a source of delight, become tragic and painful by a simple glance. Being fetishized and objectified became a heartbreaking realization that would now make Sana unstable and pissed off, which would now make her “Think twice before posting photos on social media.” For her, being auctioned on the app was a manifestation of the “the insecurity of the upper-caste Hindu male”.

Alima, a former student of St. Xavier’s, Mumbai, on the hijab ban incident, places the incident under a “Innate Islamophobia” and the whole hijab row as being “purely political” and “orchestrated”. Be a “a minority within a minority”, the Muslim woman, after being educated and fully aware of her rights, refuses to be docile and submissive and this worries the hard-line Hindutva establishment. She spoke of the “inferiority complex” surrounding the whole discourse and its troubling manifestations in the form of Dharam Sansads and hate speech that targets Muslim women’s bodies.

It is also the result of being brought up in a patriarchal environment, and this whole system creates men who see it as a sign of strength to violently and sexually assault Muslim women: patriarchy and Islamophobia are a toxic mix that creates such men, says Alima.

Eisha, journalist and former student of AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, talks about the biggest mud in the episode “Bulli/Sulli deals” where there is a growing tendency to “sexualize the body of Muslim women”. To dehumanize the woman’s body would be to snatch her free will and crush her rights.

Eisha also thinks the “Bulli/Sulli deals” app is more about the larger problem of unemployment than an unconscious inferiority complex. Eisha covers gender, Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi women’s rights and after posting an article on the topics she covers, she is abused online and receives several hateful comments on social media. Comments range from ‘go to Pakistan’ to be called a ‘slut’ and this worries him considerably. She fears that all these events are a harbinger of a possible genocide and that the days of Muslims are “numbered”.

Love Jihad Law: How to Make Hindu Women 'Nirbhar' in an 'Aatmanirbhar' India
The enactment of the law of love-jihad to end inter-religious marriages is the manifestation of the dark aspect of Hindu men.

The Shadow: Bulli/Sulli/Love-Jihad Accords and Hijab Ban as a Symptom of an Inferiority Complex

The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, mentions the idea of ​​’Shadow’ like the nasty parts of an individual’s psyche which, when accumulated to the maximum, explode in often grotesque ways.

Enforcing Bulli bai/Sulli deals and enacting the love-jihad law to end inter-faith marriages is the manifestation of the dark aspect of Hindu men. This has been reinforced through frustrations ranging from employment to an inferiority complex resulting from a sense of fear of Muslim colonialism and a crisis of masculinity, which turns into raw hatred and misogyny because the shadow is not brought to light by reason but is relegated to dark corners to burst horribly.

Read also : What’s the story behind the ‘Hindu male hero’ and ‘the other manly Muslim’

Education provided Muslim women with the tools to resist the dictates of the patriarchal and fascist regime. The fragile masculinity of the current regime suffers a blow when a minority within a minority strongly asserts itself publicly. Political and religious leaders have justified the idea of ​​rape as a political tool to silence the voices of Muslim women.

Enforcing Bulli bai/Sulli deals and enacting the love-jihad law to end inter-faith marriages is the manifestation of the dark aspect of Hindu men. This has been reinforced through frustrations ranging from employment to an inferiority complex resulting from a sense of fear of Muslim colonialism and a crisis of masculinity, which turns into raw hatred and misogyny because the shadow is not brought to light by reason but is relegated to dark corners to burst horribly.

(Names have been changed to protect the identity of certain individuals)


A graduate in English literature, Danishmand Khan is interested in the intersectionality of caste, class, gender and communalism. A member of Gandhi, he is currently pursuing graduate studies in journalism at AJK-MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia. You can find it on Twitter.

Featured Image Credit: Aasawari Kulkarni / Feminism in India

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