Thursday, January 20, 2022

Karnataka Veil Issue: Should Muslims Choose the Veil Over Education?

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam 21 January 2022 Quran And Hadis Mandate The Veiling Of Women, Linking It To Women’s Modesty Main Points: 1. The debarred Muslim girls continue to sit outside the classes as a mark of protest. 2. This demand is not coming from all Muslim girls but only from a tiny minority bringing out the contested nature of the veil within Muslim society. 3. If the veil is banned, what about Hindu religious symbols? Why such secularizing zeal is seen with regard to symbols of Islamic faith only? ------ Students in Government PU Women College for Girls in Udupi sitting outside their classroom. | @SalmanNizami_via Twitter ----- Trouble is brewing in a government college in Udupi, Karnataka over the issue of headscarf. Few Muslim students of the college decided to don the veil arguing that it was a manifestation of their Islamic faith and that such an expression of religiosity was protected by the Indian constitution. The college authorities, on the other hand, have a different set of understanding. They have debarred these students from attending classes. The college argues that the veil is against the ‘dress code’ of the institution. As an institution which can frame laws for the benefit of the students, they are well within their rights to debar these students from attending classes. But there are other parties to this polarized debate within the college campus. It was the Hindu right wing affiliated student body which at first objected to the usage of the veil in classrooms. Of late, Karnataka has been in the news for all the wrong reasons including passage of laws which explicitly target religious minorities like Muslims and Christians. The ruling BJP government has got bad press for wanton attacks in the state which targeted churches and other places of worship of the minority community. Hindu right-wing forces have become emboldened after the ruling dispensation came to power in the state. This seems to have been playing its part in the college too as the veil was certainly not an issue before the Hindu right wing student body protested against it. The impasse has not been broken till now. Girls with veils continue to sit outside the classes as a mark of protest while the college seems to be determined on its position. But why has the veil become so important that Muslim girls are willing to forgo their education for this piece of head covering? Should education become the casualty over the question of religious identity of Muslims? It is important to understand what the veil stands for. One of the many arguments that one comes across is that veils are a matter of choice. This argument lacks merit for the simple reason that in Islam it is not a question of choice but of an express commandment. The Quran and Hadis mandate the veiling of women, linking it to women’s modesty. So, these girls in Udupi are basically following what the religious scriptures demand of them. The other argument is that the law of the land does upholds right to religious belief and practice as akin to a fundamental right and therefore these girls should be allowed to wear what is deemed as an Islamic outfit. Certainly, the Indian courts have upheld the right to religion but have time and again pointed out that they will only protect the ‘essential attributes of religion’. Now it is debatable whether veils pass this test of essential feature in the court of law. There is certainly no consensus within the Muslim community whether veils are an essential feature of Islam. Some Muslims regard it as obligatory while others think that it can be dispensed with in contemporary times. Six Muslim girls were barred from attending class because of wearing a hijab. Credit: Twitter/Salman Nizami ----- Even within the college in question, there is no consensus within Muslim students. There are around 70 Muslim students in the college but the veil is an issue only for 12 students. Clearly then, not all Muslim students are in favour of the veil. The very fact that majority of Muslim girls in the college do not identify Islam with the veil brings out the contested nature of this head covering within Muslim society. At one level therefore, this is not a question of Islamic faith versus the college administration but of a few Muslims students insisting that their expression of Islamic religiosity be considered as the standard norm. Moreover, there are different kinds of face coverings which Muslim women wear depending on religious interpretation and the culture in which they are located. Thus, the Afghan face covering completely invisibilizes women making direct communication impossible. Within a classroom situation, it will be exceedingly difficult for any teacher to understand the facial expression of students with Afghan veils. This breakdown of dialogic communication will in turn lead to very poor pedagogic results. The girls in Karnataka, however, are not donning the full-face veil. One can see their faces and hence effective pedagogy is not being hampered. So, for the college, the only reason for barring these students is because of their religious attire. India is a land of immense religious diversity. Religion seeps into educational spaces even without people expressly acknowledging it. There are a number of government schools, for example, in which one would find a temple dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Clearly it is a Hindu symbol but then most schools, parents and teachers do not have any problem with it. One can see religious symbols in colleges and universities too. The headgear of the Sikhs is a religious symbol but there is no debate whether it should be worn within spaces of higher education. There are married Hindu women who access colleges and universities wearing their mangalsutra. Should they be similarly asked to take it off before entering their classrooms? Why is it that this secularizing zeal is witnessed only with regard to Muslim religious symbols? Despite the rising Islamophobia, it needs to be underlined that in this case, Muslim girls have got their priorities wrong. Muslims are one of the recognized educational backward minorities in the country. When it comes to the education of Muslim women, the data is simply underwhelming. Girls like the ones in Udupi, who are fortunate enough to get to college, should think of those millions of their co-religionists who never get such a chance due to a number of circumstances. Should they be agitating for the right to wear the veil or should they be focusing on their studies and becoming role models for Muslim girls all over the country. Ideally one should not have to choose between the two but just in case one has to, what choice should one make? Making the veil as the first choice is an insult to all those Muslim girls who are forced to reside in their homes because Muslim men think that they should not step out. Making the veil the first choice is an insult to millions of Muslim women worldwide who are fighting against this censorship on their body and mobility. This insistence that they will enter the college classroom with their veils comes from a position of privilege. It is equally important to understand that those supporting these college students belong to organizations that are Islamists in their agenda. The first organization to come in support was the Campus Front of India which is a student wing of the Popular Front of India (PFI). The PFI is not exactly known for upholding values of secularism and democracy as it has been named in a number of violent attacks including the one on a college teacher in Kerala for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammad. The second organization in support is the Fraternity Movement, a student and youth collective having close ties with the Welfare Party of India, which is a political platform floated by the Indian Jamat e Islami. For both organizations, the careers of these students come secondary; what is more important is the battle of positioning in which they want to foist Islamic symbolism in the public sphere. Amidst the intransience of the college administration and political Islam, one can only hope that the education of Muslim girls does not become a casualty. ----- A regular columnist with, Arshad Alam is a writer and researcher on Islam and Muslims in South Asia. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

No comments:

Post a Comment