Campuses in Karnataka resemble fancy dress competition with students wearing various outfits representing their faith create mayhem

Educational institutions in the southern Indian state of Karnataka have become battlefields over a piece of cloth- the hijab worn by women Muslim students.   

While ‘Hijab vs saffron scarf’ scuffles aren’t new to Karnataka, the state witnessed resurgence of the same in December 2021. Six students of Udipi’s Women’s PU College sat in protest after college authorities allegedly refused to let them sit in classrooms wearing the hijab. Approaching the District Commissioner and Education Department bearing no fruit, they petitioned the Karnataka High Court seeking relief.

In a tit-for-tat, Hindu students of Government First Grade College in koppa, Chikmagalur, which has a uniform and dress code, staged sit-in protest sporting saffron scarves on January 3 2022.They demanded that they be allowed to wear saffron scarves, if Muslim girls were allowed to wear the Hijab.

As the unsavory tug-Of-war between the Hijab and saffron scarves spread like wild fire across Karnataka, politicians couldn’t resist the temptation to jump into the fray tailor-made for and by them to a large extent.

Leaders of the BJP-ruled state vehemently opposed Muslim students from wearing the hijab. They accused the community of attempting to ‘Talibanise’ educational institutions.

Other political parties argue in favor of the Hijab citing constitutional legality.

Opposition parties, Congress and JD(S) pooh-poohed Prime Minister Modi’s pet slogan ‘Beti Bachao, Beti padhao’(save the girl child, educate the girl child), which has till date only served as advertisement, and PR material  for mass media.

Meanwhile, as the issue threatens to open up unsightly communal sores, the Karnataka High Court has referred the burning issue to a three-judge bench.

As the matter awaits legal opinion, few thoughts crop up among Political laypersons and ringside audience of this uneasy drama threatening to take India hostage.

  • Fundamentally, one’s faith is his/her personal matter. One’s religion is to be lived. It is not to be flaunted. Nothing corrupts one’s faith if it is displayed in whatever form, be it the hijab, cross, rosary, multi-layered tilak applied on foreheads, holy thread, Kautuka, turban, or whatever. These are better left to embellish people’s hearts and soul to help them live as better human beings, as their faith demands.
  • India which is home to numerous religions cannot afford demonstrative and loud religiosity. The country would resemble a stage hosting a fancy-dress competition, if people belonging to these faiths competed to flaunt their faith through varying, and often colorful and elaborate external representation.
  •  Ideally, shouldn’t people’s faith be identified from their character? And not through religious showmanship, chest-thumping and blatant violence?
  • The fundamental undoing among Indians is their inability to distinguish between religiosity and spirituality. While religiosity must ideally enhance people spiritually, it has failed to do so in India. It takes a massive spiritual reawakening to achieve this, if it must.
  • It is this failure of religions that permits intruders and trespassers like self-seeking politicians to dabble in them to their advantage. It is this prominent faith-spiritual disconnect that has resulted in unpleasant fancy-dress competitions being played out in Karnataka’s campuses. If Muslim girls had permitted Islam to influence them, they wouldn’t demand the hijab, which contributes to nothing but medievalism and subjugation. If troublemakers (read hijab-baiters) had permitted tenets of Hinduism seep their souls, they wouldn’t ask for saffron scarves to checkmate hijab wearers.
  • Students must compulsorily adhere to prescribed uniform and dress codes to prevent religious arm-flexing by wearing ‘whatever they like to observe their faith’.
  •  Unpleasant and silly turn of events in Karnataka’s campuses that looked like a fancy-dress competition to those uninitiated into or unused to such dramatics would divide the entire country and halt her progress to modernity and civility.
  • Such unpleasant events tear asunder India’s once famed plurality and secularism (not the pseudo kind) fracturing her along communal schism and fault lines.
  •  Individual faiths thus exposed and exploited would open doors to self-serving politicians who show no hesitation to wallow in green pastures to graze on. The Elements of the Sangh Parivar who openly supported the saffron scarf sporting fanatics lent their support not out of love for their motherland or faith, but only out of their determination and priority to enhance politics of hate and division, and their brand of Islamophobia, which has become the Indian way of life. The congressmen who shed crocodile tears for Muslim girls who weren’t allowed to wear the hijab pretended concern not out of concern for the ‘wronged’. They wanted to exploit the ugly turn of events to garner precious Muslim votes by doing so.
  • Religious heads are equally to be blamed for religious misinterpretation. Hijab, for example, is nothing but a patriarchal instrument to subjugate women. Islamic clerics must open the eyes of members of the community to see reason, and lead them away from indoctrination.    
  • The uniform must be made compulsory in educational institutions. No student must be permitted to wear anything of his/her liking, to the demands of his/her faith, on implied constitutional permission. The constitution must be amended if such an allowance is taken advantage by students to flaunt their faith on campuses. Karnataka’s fancy-dress competitions call for such a demand.  
  • It is ideal if religious showmanship is practiced at homes or places of worship at best. Religion mustn’t spill over into public spaces in the form of processions, festivals and other rituals causing public inconvenience, spread of pandemics, environmental and sound pollution, materialism and commercialization of faiths.
  • It is important for India to pull herself back from the brink of degradation into a medieval society given to dictates of religion, like Pakistan. A pandemic-hit nation must reset her priorities away from hijabs and saffron scarves and instead concentrate on being a flag-bearer of constructive and progressive democracy by setting herself on the road to wholesome recovery and to tread back to  an India we once knew, and took pride in.