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Opinion: Hijab ban and saffronisation in India

Neharika Tewari

India is suffering from hate politics.

Secular harmony is being stifled every day through several inappropriate and redundant actions. Even a small discussion about the ruling right-wing central government angers the party defenders. People against the right-wing ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are assumed to be either Congress supporters or leftist sympathisers. Any discussion is turned into a heated argument within minutes, and our arguments are given a partisan turn.

The state is becoming hyper-masculine and intolerant: communists, socialists and feminists are looked down upon and trolled on social media. It is no secret, we all are aware of who the current political prisoners are– bearing the brunt of having an ideology. The difference of opinions is never welcomed. Jingoist emotions are controlling our nation and deepening its clutches.

Hatred and toxicity have reached many minds.

I believe that this government has gifted its supporters – the audaciousness and brazen impunity to openly hate the minorities of our nation while propagating Islamophobia.

People are losing their ability to listen or discuss. Every discourse is twisted and turned around, and the failures of the previous government are repeatedly drawn in to show how the Hindus are now in danger. These topics are presented by the baseless facts of the increasing Muslim population in India, with clearly Islamophobic intentions.

If only, this passion to spew hate was channelized to uphold constitutional morality. If only, this zeal was there to stand against hatred. But the admirers of the right-wing party seem to be happy with their new saffron hearts, which is deeply saddening and concerning.

In these daunting times, adolescents have recently been dragged towards their hatred. In Karnataka, the internalised misogyny under the surveillance of a patriarchal state is growing its roots against young Muslim women, as it banned the hijab in educational institutions. Dividing them based on religion is a moment of shame and a glimpse of darker times approaching.

I had a lump in my throat when I saw young girls wearing saffron shawls on their shoulders and hailing ‘Jai Shri Ram’ protesting against the hijab. Had we given intersectional education and awareness of privileges, to the students they might have stood outside the gates of their school speaking up for the rights of their classmates.

Uniform equality or forced cultural homogenisation?

The Bommai government’s direction in Karnataka to abolish the hijab has been made on the basis to to promote uniformity and remove any marker which might be discriminating. This law is a result of viewing everything from a homogenous lens. Many people against this forced hijab ban argue that if they wanted uniformity then why did the government schools teach religious Hindu shlokas in schools?

Having studied in a school run by the Government of India, it made me realise now how all our prayers used to be in Sanskrit. During my school days, I witnessed how Muslim students were reluctant to sing Vande Mataram, due to the conflict in their religious beliefs. In the past, this infuriated the Hindutva ideologues who alleged them to be anti-national for not singing the national song. But why in the first place should the nation be worshipped or deified as per the Hindu values and beliefs? Do we only have one religion in our country?

Imagine what if their idea of nationalism were to be applied in all the states of our country. Are we ready for that kind of homogenisation, where the minority is asked to hail 'Vande Mataram' or 'Jai Shri Ram!' and are mercilessly beaten if they don’t?

If the Bommai Government in Karnataka is aiming for uniformity and equality then why can’t we view the nation through an intersectional feminist lens? Wouldn’t it be more progressive, than the oppressive ban of the Hijab in educational institutions? Hindutva's idea of removing oppression only focuses on the ‘other’ community, little do they focus on improving their religion and the patriarchal practices in many of their rituals and ceremonies.

Why don’t the leaders from the right-wing party speak against the ritual of kanyadaan, which directly translates to ‘giving away of the bride' and treats a woman as a commodity for charity? This is where we can see the leaders’ hypocrisy. Where was the idea of uniformed clothing when another group of girls were seen wearing saffron stoles and protesting against the hijab? How did the plot change from uniform clothing in educational institutions to promoting oneness in this religious tussle between the two communities?

Upholding the constitutional rights can help fight against the ideology which is spreading hatred day by day. Article 25 under the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. It is high time we talk about unity in diversity rather than forcing uniformed clothing to attain unity. Simply put, homogenisation is a threat to 'unity in diversity.

It is alarming how the BJP government and other right-wing groups are capturing young minds. Be it Vishva Hindu Parishad(VHP) or Rashtriya Swayam Sevak(RSS) backed schools through their textbooks or workshops. In Nazi Germany, children and youth were targeted and also influenced by propaganda. Their value systems and beliefs were influenced by youth organisations and various other such programs. At times when we are already dealing with the fascist-neoliberalism conflict, the youth of India is also being pulled into the obnoxious hate politics and is going to create a conflict especially if we do not communicate with them. We need to communicate with them as guides, without sticking to the hierarchical hegemonic structure. Else there would be no difference between us and this parental state imposing saffron laws.

It is extremely important to listen to what they think about current times because it is affecting their minds slowly. We must initiate conversations around the struggles of minorities – religious, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities. We must make them aware of their privileges, to let them know about social capital. These conversations and discussions could help them develop an intersectional way of thinking, to question everything rather than following social norms without any question.

Hence, before hatred captures their minds, we must be there to guide them and encourage them to understand the greys and to look out of their square boxes.


About the writer:

Neharika Tewari loves reading, writing and unlearning.


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