Udupi hijab ban: Karnataka compete with UP and Assam

It is unclear which should shake us more – the murder of Sameer by a violent Hindu mob or the forced eviction of eight Muslim students from their classes by the authorities of a government college in Udupi for wearing the hijab and their forbidden to speak Urdu or use ‘salam’ to greet others.

Both images are from Karnataka and tell you that Karnataka competes with states like Uttar Pradesh and Assam to be recognized as the most dangerous, unsafe and unsafe for Muslims and Christians. Unfortunately, this is a race in which various state units and chief ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are involved: who can be the most vicious and crass hatemonger?

The two incidents mentioned above also tell you about the ecology of Islamophobia propagated by the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other extremist Hindu organizations like the Ram Sene in Karnataka which affects almost every aspect of the lives of Muslims and Christians.

Sameer was assassinated by a mob instigated to attack and beat up Muslims by a Bajrang Dal leader. Sameer died while his friend Shamsher suffered serious injuries. A video has gone viral in which a Bajrang Dal leader openly calls for violence against Muslims and challenges the police to do whatever they want. Officers can be seen watching his violent plea. Shortly after, the attacks took place and Sameer was murdered.

ALSO READ – No solution in sight to hijab dispute at Udupi Government University

The lives of Muslims and Christians are made difficult by law, violence and vicious propaganda which demonizes them in the eyes of Hindus. Laws aimed at striking down the practices of these two religious groups are enacted. Thugs attack Muslims and Christians without any fear of the law. The leaders of the RSS network and sections of the Kannada media keep spitting hatred against them.

Laws against conversion and the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ were mentioned. The bogeyman of forced conversions of Hindu women was used to justify these proposed laws. Christian groups have strongly opposed, but the Karnataka government is adamant. The propaganda of the threat of increasing Muslim population never ceases.

Muslims are also portrayed as people fracturing the universal and uniform Kannadiga identity. The government college in Udupi’s decision not to allow some Muslim students wearing the hijab to attend their classes is the most recent example. The chairman of the college’s management committee, a BJP MP, defended the decision saying it is taken to ensure uniformity.

Students rightly say that the hijab does not violate any law. The Constitution of India sanctions them to observe their religious beliefs. If Muslim students say the hijab is part of their religious practice, college authorities cannot deny it. Moreover, no rule prescribed by the college or imposed as a condition of enrollment prevents female students from wearing the hijab.

Students have publicly stated that college authorities and some faculty members have also taken offense to their use of Urdu and “salam” as a form of greeting. If true, it should shock us. But we know that is not the case.

In an article by Scroll, Umang Poddar cited Kerala High Court judgments that the right to wear the hijab derives from Article 25(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees “freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion freely”. It can, of course, be regulated taking into account the imperatives of public order, morality and public health. But the orders of the High Court of Kerala leave no room for ambiguity in matters of wearing the hijab.

In 2016, the court ruled that the hijab is an integral part of the Islamic religion. It does not affect public order, good morals or health, nor does it affect the other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The article cites an earlier judgment of the Kerala High Court stating clearly, “One cannot insist that a particular dress code be followed, otherwise a student would be barred from appearing for examinations.” Regarding the wearing of hijab as a religious right, the orders of the Kerala High Court remain the law of the land. No authority can violate this.

Government college authorities are violating the law of the land by denying students entry to their classes for wearing the hijab. The debate should end here. Is the students’ insistence on the hijab an internalized patriarchy, or is it a method of subjugating women using religion are not the issues to be discussed at this point.

The college authorities’ allegation that certain organizations instigated these students to wear the hijab is irrelevant. It is also irrelevant that other Muslim students do not wear hijab. It only shows that there is diversity in the lifestyles of Muslims. Even if they are only eight years old, all that matters is that they want to wear the hijab and that they are constitutionally sanctioned. The college authorities’ insistence that they can only access their classes after removing the hijab is a violation of constitutional law and practice.

The students rightly asked, “We are practicing Muslims and the hijab is part of our faith. Besides that, we are also students who yearn for a career and a good life. Why do we suddenly have to choose between our identity and our education? It’s not fair at all.

It must bother us that the college authorities have turned a non-issue into a major controversy. India’s secularism is unique in that it takes a relaxed view of public presence and the display of religious symbols. Unlike secularism, the model of French secularism which seeks to outlaw any public manifestation of religion, Indian secularism makes room for them. It allowed Indians to learn about the modern practice of secularism without feeling a violent break with their traditions.

But recently, the Hindu way of life is presented as the only universal Indian way of life and other ways of life as sinister ploys to distort it. Urdu has been a language of Karnataka for a long time, and ‘salam’ is no stranger to Kannadiga ears. But now the RSS and its affiliates are promoting an aggressive Hinduization of all social and public spaces. It keeps Muslims and Christians away from all kinds of advertisements. The refusal of the collegiate authorities to allow the education of students and the reluctance of political parties to defend their rights should cause us concern. This is what emboldens open calls for violence against Muslims. The erasure of identity markers ultimately leads to physical elimination.

(The writer teaches at the University of Delhi)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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