Outrage sparked across the world last month after a hijab-wearing girl named Muskan was heckled by Hindu mob in India. Tensions were running high over the hijab issue in the Indian state of Karnataka. It was no longer confined to India or the subcontinent; rather, it has become a subject of global criticism against religious rights and fundamental freedoms. The issue has arisen in India at a time when assembly elections were underway in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state. If the party wins in this largest BJP state, Yogi Adityanath is expected to become the next Prime Minister of BJP.
The viral video shows the girl wearing a burqa riding her bike into her college. There, some youths gathered in purple clothes chanting ‘Joy Shri Ram’ towards him. At that time, the girl stood in front of them and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’. College authorities then took the girl inside.
“I am not discriminating between Hindus and Muslims here,” Muskan Khan told the BBC. I just stood up for my education, for my rights. We are not allowed to enter because we are wearing hijab. But we have been wearing it for years. The boys are telling the principal of my college that if he comes after the burqa, then we will not remove it (gerua, towel-leaf etc.). We just need permission to wear hijab. No matter how they come, we don’t have to worry about it. We just need education. Our principal is with us, the teachers are with us. Some people from outside are just trying to get concentration.”
It all started when the BJP government in Karnataka banned hijab from all school-college uniforms. After that, six young women started protesting in front of a government college when hijab-wearing girls were not allowed to enter the class. Gradually the protest spread to other educational institutions in the state. After that, some students started coming to the campus after Gerua in protest against the hijab ban. The situation became heated when the two groups faced off. Meanwhile, protesters have gone to court demanding a constitutional right to wear the hijab. Following which, the government announced closure of all educational institutions for three days.
The question is why the issue of banning hijab in the state was brought up? Why is there a restriction on sitting in class after hijab because of dress code in educational institutions? Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court has started hearing the petition filed by Muslim girls on the issue of banning hijab.
Devdatta Kamat, a senior lawyer for the petitioners in the court, argued that wearing hijab is an “essential religious practice” prescribed in the Holy Quran and that the petitioners were only wearing a headscarf. Therefore, wearing the hijab is protected under the right to religious freedom under Article 25 of the Constitution, and no state government has the power to control it. Mr. Kamat further claimed that the right to dress is a part of the fundamental right to speak and express one’s opinion under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. And if wearing hijab is a fundamental religious right, then the government cannot issue an order in this regard due to constitutional protection. But how can the same thing be ordered in institutions?
Days before the Karnataka incident, a hardline Hindutva leader called on extremist Hindus to carry out genocide against Muslims in a public event. That extremist Hindu priest was heard from the stage saying that India should be liberated from Muslims by taking up arms like Myanmar and killing them. But even after this, the anti-Muslim agenda is coming to the fore one after another. Whether the hijab is part of a larger plan is a matter of concern.
The ongoing elections in Uttar Pradesh may be one of the reasons of the ban. Before the Lok Sabha or Assembly elections, the BJP’s strategy is to threaten Pakistan and intensify the Hindu-Muslim communal issue. If this is the case then the majority of voters are expected to vote for the BJP. Therefore, there is a high possibility to use the hijab issue as a trumpcard.
Mainly, RSS is at the root of the current ideology in India. Founded by Dr. Keshab Baliram Hedgewar in Nagpur in 1925, the main ideology of this party is Hinduism. Now the chief of RSS, Mohan Bhagwat says that the essence of Hinduism is that India will be a state of Hindus. Those who will remain as citizens of this state have to accept the cultural practices of Hindutva.
It goes without saying that this idea of ??the RSS chief has been adopted by all the people of India. Opposition to this idea has not just come from the Muslim-Christian or Buddhist minorities, the main opposition came from politicians and intellectuals in India itself who believed in pluralism and secularism. In today’s ‘Hijab’ debate, there has been more or less criticism from all non-BJP parties as well as opposition to the RSS’s philosophy of India.
The RSS seeks to establish ideological dominance in the final spheres of Indian state military-civilian control. In particular, they sought to create a large circle of RSS Hindutva ideology in the judiciary, civil bureaucracy, national and global intelligence agencies and the armed forces of the central and important states to establish control over Hindutva philosophy in India’s policy making, education system, administration and media.
In this regard, significant progress seems to have been made since the formation of the BJP government led by Narendra Modi in the second phase. Now, from the top echelons of the armed forces, Hindutva extremist nationalist rhetoric can be seen as well as professional rhetoric in the interest of military or security. State agencies have been accused of playing a covert role in controlling elections, which was not seen in public in the 5-6 decades after independence.
Apart from this, there is a huge expansion of members of RSS, VHP, Bajrang etc. branch organizations. According to one statistic, there are 16 million RSS members/cadres across India, who is deeply inspired by the RSS ideology. These members are being recruited in the military-civilian cadre service, intelligence agencies and other administrations. They are playing an important role in the election campaign at the state and central levels. The spread of this power is changing India from within.
For this reason, the issue of hijab cannot be considered as an isolated issue. There is an attachment to RSS’s core beliefs and ideas. This is an issue that has to do with the NRC or citizenship issue, disenfranchisement of minorities and the threat of minority genocide. In order to protect India’s pluralistic unity from the threat, efforts must be made to free from the fascist ideology. In the same way, all the minority-majority forces have to be united all over India. If this is possible, the BJP or the RSS family, with the support of only 30 to 35 per cent Indians, will no longer be able to lead the country towards extremist rule. The BJP is winning by using the division. It has failed because in West Bengal as it could not play populist trump card. The main question now is when and how much the rest of India can come under this trend.
The writer is independent analyst on national and international issues.