On Ludicrous Comparison Of Hijab-Forcing Iranian Regime With Sabrimala Tradition On Women’s Entry

by Swati Goel Sharma - Oct 29, 2022 10:50 AM +05:30 IST
On Ludicrous Comparison Of Hijab-Forcing Iranian Regime With Sabrimala Tradition On Women’s Entry(Left) A protesters cutting her hair in Iran. (Right) A woman devotee at Sabrimala
Snapshot
  • It’s high time the left-liberals give up on drawing false equivalences to justify hijab demands in public schools of India.

    In their mindless agenda to somehow prove existence of a ‘global Hindutva’ threat, they are pulling the wool over eyes of pro-hijab protesters.

The ongoing mass protest in the Islamic Republic of Iran against the death of Mahsa Amini has evidently left the hijab-supporting ‘left-liberals’ in India flustered.

Iranian women are throwing away their hijab, cutting off their hair in public and raising slogans against their Supreme Leader and “mullahs”.

Under the Iranian laws, if women are seen in public without hijab, which comprises a hair and neck-covering cloth and body figure-hiding cloak, ‘Morality Police’ have powers to take them to the police station and fine them or put them in jail.

Amini, a 22-year-old resident of Iran, was picked up from the street for inadequate hijab by Morality Police and taken to the police station, where she was allegedly beaten up, leading to her death a few days later.   

With what face do left-liberals now back the demand to allow hijab in public schools of secular India in the name of Shariah laws laid out by Islamic texts?

To save themselves the embarrassment, they are trying to twist the debate into a generalised one about women’s struggle against all “religious orthodoxies”.

To place this generalisation in the hijab debate in India, they, predictably, are raising alarm over ‘Hindu fundamentalism’, warning women of Iran-like consequences while describing the hijab demand in India as one of ‘choice’.

Take the column that has appeared on the Edit page of The Times of India today by former news anchor and journalist Sagarika Ghose, where she equates the “theocratic regime” in Iran with “some Hindu shrines” barring menstruating women from entering their premises.

Do they really compare? We take a look closer at what Ghose is suggesting here, and begin with some facts about hijab in Iran and Sabrimala in India:

In Iran:

  • Compulsory hijab was introduced in 1979 shortly after a secular monarchy was replaced by a pro-Ulema Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the ‘Islamic Revolution’.

  • To the Western media, he explained the law by saying that women without hijab are “useless, distracting and naked”.

  • To his supporters in Iran, he said, “We [clergy] forcefully affirm that refusal to wear the veil is against the law of Allah and the Prophet, and a material and moral affront to the entire country”.

  • Initially, the hijab was enforced through lashes in public and later, through monetary fines and jail term. Some years later, 'Morality Police' was formed.

  • The law applies to all women regardless of their religion, and at all public places.

In India:

  • Women enter and worship in temples freely, whether those managed by government or private bodies. The “barring of women” that Ghose referred to in her column, is about a specific temple in Kerala’s Sabrimala hill town. The temple houses murti of a deity named Ayyappan who is believed to have been a celibate (Brahmachari).

  • Women were allowed in the temple, which is accessible after a trek, but barred from inner sanctum by its management – the Travancore Devaswom Board that functions under the state government – citing ‘tradition’ and ‘beliefs’.

  • When some women from a group named Indian Young Lawyers’ Association petitioned in the Supreme Court to lift the bar on entry of women of “reproductive age” in Sabrimala, they did not cite a Hindu religious text but the Constitution of India and non-prohibitive rules of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules Act of 1965. 

  • When the Supreme Court lifted the bar on entry citing Constitution, the Board and the statement government accepted the judgement and said they would not challenge it.

As is evident, Sabrimala women entry episode is not a case of a “theocratic regime” pushing religious orthodoxy down the throats of women and controlling them or, as Ghose thoughtlessly writes, “treating modern women as Enemy No. 1”.

For entry in Sabrimala in India to be equated with hijab in Iran, these conditions must be met:

  • The Travancore Devaswom Board that manages Sabrimala campaigning in the entire country to bar the entry of women in all temples by citing a Hindu text.

  • While running such a campaign, the Board also trying to overthrow the secular government to establish their rule and enforce laws based on the same Hindu text that they cite to bar entry of women in Sabrimala.

  • Severe punishment meted out to those who refuse the diktats on temple entry, evidence of murders happening for violating the rules and proof of any political party or regime trying to defend such murder of women, if any. 

It is necessary for these conditions to be met for an alarm to be raised about “a theocratic Hindu regime” taking over India and treating modern women as Enemy No 1. But there is evidently not even a remote sign of such a movement happening.

On the contrary, likes of Ghose have remain tactically or strategically silent on unequal rights of Muslim women in India or, for that matter, the sorry state of women in Afghanistan. They have lent no real support to the Iranian women beyond using them to blame Hindus, either.

This implies, the real threat that they are mentioning in their tweet is not from any Hindu regime but from these Ghoses themselves.

After her frivolous comparison of Sabrimala and hijab laws in Iran, Ghose, in her column, moves on to her next absurd argument – calling the hijab debate in India a debate on women’s choice versus “a state forcing a woman not to wear a headscarf”.

A state forcing a woman not to wear a headscarf, really?

This statement suggests that the state introduced uniform in public schools to prevent Muslim girls from wearing a headscarf. While such an assertion itself is ludicrous, how does the author explain public schools prohibiting Hindu boys and girls wearing saffron shawls?

Or, for that matter, public schools prohibiting all students from wearing colourful fashionable clothes during school hours?   

Is the state forcing Muslim girls to attend public schools and thereby forcibly making them wear hijab-less uniform? Does the state penalise those girls who only attend private Islamic schools or madrassas or get home-schooled?

Last seen, girls in a Karnataka school run by an Islamic organisation were group-singing ‘main Muslim qaum ki ladki hun main parda karti hun’ while covered from head to toe in a black headscarf, face-cover, cloak, gloves and socks.  

Such arguments are merely desperate attempts to rationalise the demand for hijab in India by washing the Islamic fundamentalist taint off it by somehow bring in universal patriarchy or choice or the delicious Hindu angle.

What sign have the so-called ‘Hindutva government’ at the centre and their supporters shown of forcing any dress or moral code on women?

Last we saw, the government was raising the minimum age of marriage for women and introducing non-coercive schemes to eradicate the practice of ghoonghat among women which, by all credible accounts, crept into the Hindu society through Islamic invasions. 

It’s high time the left-liberals give up on drawing false equivalences to justify hijab demands in public schools of India, and accept what the source and intention behind the demands are.

In their mindless agenda to somehow prove existence of a ‘global Hindutva’ threat, they are pulling the wool over eyes of pro-hijab protesters.

Also Read: Pro-Hijab Verdict Would Be Dog-whistle For Fundamentalists

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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