Hijab: Symbol Of Pluralism Or Anti-Secular Aggression?

Aravindan Neelakandan

Feb 09, 2022, 06:58 PM | Updated 06:58 PM IST

Karnataka Hijab Row
Karnataka Hijab Row
  • In the present context, allowing the hijab and veil in educational institutions—thinking that they are symbols of pluralistic accommodation—would actually amount to bowing down to radical and aggressive Islam.
  • The viral video of a Muslim woman in complete veil entering an educational institution in coastal Karnataka and shouting Allah O Akbar, while a group of evidently Hindu boys shouted 'Jai Shri Ram', brings two things to mind.

    First is how the behaviour of the girl was predicated upon the knowledge that the Hindu students would never cross the Lakshman Rekha: they would not assault her physically. If they tried to, they would be stopped by their own compatriots and punished by the school authorities. The democratic, civilised space inherent in Hindutva makes her stand where she stood and loudly assert her opinion and slogans.

    It is in fact an endorsement and validation of the democratic nature of the students who oppose the purdah.

    That makes one think about the real power of that one girl. No, not this girl. Most probably, we would not even know the name of that one girl I am talking about here. She, too, stood facing her tormentors. They were not numerous. They were only four. And that also involved the same dress code.

    She did not oblige them. She stuck to her freedom. She was attacked with acid. The place was Sri Nagar and it was twenty years ago. Her tormentors belonged to Lakshar-e-Jabbar. She knew that the ground she stood was not governed by civility and democracy but by Islamist terrorism. She knew she was defying an order that would bring her death. But she stood defiant.

    She, a 14-year-old victim of Islamist acid attack and not the veiled girl in the grip of radicalised fundamentalist fervour, represents the power of one.

    Now coming to the question of hijab and purdah (both are different but related) one needs to understand why there is an opposition to it and why the opposition is not communal.

    From a purely mechanistic and secular institutional point of view, a student should adhere to the rules and regulations of the institution. But we do not follow that. We all know how Sikh students, having a special head dress are allowed in most institutions. It can be argued that in the same way the headscarf should also be allowed. One cannot deny that there is no merit in such an argument.

    But this time, with the hijab, it is different. With the needed face mask, the hijab becomes almost a complete veil and in an educational institution that can create real problems for both the teachers and the students. In fact, this could, in the long run, create problems for the parents as well.

    The hijab and purdah are themselves different in another aspect. They are symbols of aggressive expansionism and not of pluralism.

    In Kashmir, the imposition of hijab came with the rise in Islamist terrorism. Acid and paint were thrown on unveiled women. They were even shot in the legs for not adhering to purdah.

    While terrorism in Kashmir was normalised by a section of media and polity as a fight for Kashmiri identity, in reality the colourful pluralism of attire was actually stamped out by the Islamist dress code. It started in late 1990s and continued well into the twenty-first century.

    Lesser known are the killing of women in Tamil Nadu by Islamist terrorists. The women were targeted because they were not following the Islamic code of conduct, or Shariat, which included wearing the veil and not speaking to kafir males.

    Mumtaz was executed in public on 10 March 2007. She was a worker in a cigar-rolling factory. Harunnisa, who was running a tea shop along with her husband, was warned by the Islamists for not adhering to the Islamic code of conduct. She was also executed in May that year.

    The local leader of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazahagam – whose political support for the DMK is well known, lamented that these murders happened because Indian constitution does not allow execution of ‘immoral women.’ The very same week the TMMK functionary shared this wisdom with the press, in New Delhi, the top-brass of Communist Party of India (Marxist) were sharing dais with the leaders of TMMK.

    It does not stop at merely the imposition of a dress code. It becomes more and more rigid and spreads further. It is imposed on non-Muslims when the Islamists gain political control of any region. They have already the ideology in place.

    An English professor whose collection of short stories were once part of the college syllabus in Kerala, wrote a book on Islam. He was considered a soft-face of Islam, even though he supported death sentence on Salman Rushdie. He wrote a book in Tamil - which was aimed at removing the 'misgivings' one may have about the religion. In the part where he justified purdah, he wrote, 'Which woman would you respect? A woman fully covered or a woman who shows her chest to you?'.

    That is the mentality. A woman who does not adhere to Islamic dress code is seen like that and even a well-educated 'moderate' describes them this way.

    Hijab is not just another headscarf. It is theological politics - an aggressive politics aimed against all secular institutions - which they want to pull down one by one.

    So right now, allowing the hijab—thinking that as a symbol of pluralistic accommodation—would actually amount to bowing down to a very hostile challenge to secularism.

    It is a misogynist war-cry against the cultural pluralism of the nation. Accommodating this aggression is not acceptance of pluralism but is appeasement. And what Dr Ambedkar said about appeasement in the context of Pakistan movement still applies to the politics of Islamism:

    This policy of appeasement will involve the Hindus in the same fearful situation in which the Allies found themselves as a result of the policy of appeasement which they adopted towards Hitler. This is another malaise, no less acute than the malaise of social stagnation. Appeasement will surely aggravate it.

    We will all do well to understand this.

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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