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An Aligarh University Student On The Veil Ban That’s ‘Denying’ Muslim Women A Chance

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By Riad Azam

The recent judgement of the Supreme Court of India in summarily rejecting a petition against a CBSE directive that had banned the wearing of veil or any other headgear during the AIPMT exam is an assault on minority rights as well as the multicultural ethos of India.

The condescending manner in which the court delivered its judgement exposes a deep ignorance of its Muslim sensibilities. The judgement has referred to the petition as a ‘waste of its time’, and the issue ‘a small matter’, going on to say that nobody would be committing a sin if one were to remove the headscarf for a few hours. It also carries some more unfortunate implications. The judgement ought to be seen in the context of the rising Right Wing Hindutva assertion in India when anyone who seeks to disagree with this narrative is asked to ‘go to Pakistan’. As Ratna Kapur writes in The Wire…the veil is not a small issue. It needs to be located in a context where religious minority communities especially Muslims under siege…Viewing the petition as a ‘waste’ of its time is itself a position. It is a position that sides with the rising tides of majoritanism.

aligarh muslim university students In my understanding, most Muslim women who choose to observe the veil do so as a fulfilment of their religious obligations, they find it to be a source of their spiritual fulfilment and most importantly consider it as a part of their identity. To ask them to remove the veil for a few hours is actually asking them to do away with a part of their identity. Aligarh Muslim University, which has around fifty percent of its female students wearing the veil has strongly reacted upon the issue. Sobia Manaal Siddiqui, a second year MBBS student said, “Hijab (veil) is an important part of me and I cannot imagine having to go anywhere without it. The judgement of the court has hurt the sentiments of a lot of people and this makes us no better than totalitarian countries like China. Ours is a secular country and our beauty lies in its diversity. I feel betrayed.

There is another important aspect that needs to be considered here. In the recent times, especially in the post- Nirbhaya phase there has been a virtual takeover of the women’s rights movement in India by the upper class elite women, dwelling in metropolitan cities. Without any strong theoretical foundation, they adopt a very reactionary political language emphasising on short term goals of women empowerment. While it vehemently puts forward the idea that a woman must not be judged by the nature of the clothes she wears (which is an absolutely correct contention), but at the same time it looks down upon the veil or headscarf wearing woman as disempowered, refusing to believe that the veil can be an informed choice of a woman and need not necessarily be forced upon her by the local mullah. While it is quite true that patriarchal pressures and societal norms at times force women to observe the veil, but at the same time for a large number of women, it is a result of their rational and informed choice, and hence the judgement does them a great disservice.

Unfortunately the reportage of this entire judgement in mainstream media displays such an outlook. A news report in The Times of India states that, “The Supreme Court on Friday firmly declined to entertain the trend of flaunting religious beliefs to seek immunity from dress code, asking three Muslim girls and little known- Students Islamic Organisation of India to follow the code prescribed by the CBSE.

The tone of the report, apart from being strikingly similar to the Supreme Court judgement also exposes similar ignorance. The Students’ Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) is the student wing of the Jamaat-e- Islami Hind, and is one of India’s largest Muslim student organisations. While it would be an exaggeration to say that all Indian Muslims agree with the principles of the SIO but in no way it is a ‘little known’ organisation.

The Indian Constitution has laid out the laws perfectly, especially those pertaining to arrests or interrogation of women which provide significant powers to the law enforcing agencies without compromising on the beliefs or the customs practiced by the woman who is to be interrogated or arrested. A large number of Muslim women students who had decided to appear for the examination had made a decision of being a part of India’s mainstream while at the same time maintaining their belief and identity. By putting this ban the Court has only forced them to make a choice between the two. In the whole brouhaha an opportunity of development of India’s minorities has been jeopardised. The minorities and the oppressed look upon the Judiciary for justice. This judgement by the Supreme Court will only lead to further alienation of Muslim women from higher education.

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  1. A voice of reason

    The definition of “right to practice their religion” are loose at best.Say,what if the entire student body turns at the centre wearing hijab saying they’ve converted yesterday or Hindus seeking permission to enter in rigged accessories.What you’re seeking is clearly what the minorities require to stop seeking in order to not feel alienated,”special treatments. ”
    Are the french and Germans totalitarians too since they don’t allow hijabs?
    Learn to respect at least the Supreme court.

  2. vikas sahil

    I appreciate supreme court judgement. No one should be allowed to use headgear during exam as small microphone have been used to cheat which lead to cancellation.I know many muslim woman who doesnt wear any head gear at all , are they less muslim.Muslim or any community must adapt changing modernity.Imagine if burka clad woman became a doctor how she will check a patient,situation will more funny if she became surgeon as she has to put special OT dress.Its a matter to understand and co-operate not to do religious melodrama . Kudos to CBSE for reconducting the exam in sort time frame.

  3. MajorBS

    The judgement makes a lot of sense on first look. But digging further in to the judgement, it is a gross violation of right to practice ones religion and dress the way one want to. Yes, there may be a dress code for CBSE, but it is made entirely for targeting muslim students who choose wear a veil. Any argument that CBSE puts forward regarding head scarf is at best naive. Then why not ask hindu married women not to wear sindhoor, or hindu brahmins to remove their sacred thread, or christian students not to wear a cross. If the court thinks that nothing will happen if you take off the veil for some time, the believers also can think that nothing will happen if someone wears a veil in an examination hall despite the dress code prescribed by CBSE. For the believers religion is more important than some ruling by a board of education. (I do not agree with forced hijab and I know there are millions of women out there who are forced to wear a veil, but this ruling is also the same. It is forcing people to conform to an authority unwillingly or willingly, thus it is in no way an empowering ruling. It is showcasing the skills of a manipulative government)

    1. jamil akhter kolkata

      you ignorant fool first try to read the judgement before spitting venom in the name of muslim persecution by majority. supreme court had banned hijab, cross of cristians, head scarf of cristian nuns, any locket or relegious symbol of hindus including sacred thread, kada of sikhs,any hair pin .broach,big buttons,belts,shoes etc etc. For your information cheaters used bluetooth covering their head using head scarf . Do not try to find religion in everything moron. Go get a life.

    2. Anon

      It is great to see India as a Diverse country in Textbooks. But when we have to achieve as a nation we have to be more uniform than diverse. I am happy, for once the Supreme Court has rejected a so called ‘petition on Religious practices’. One has to draw a line somewhere. Tomorrow a religious section may want to change the dress code for Soldiers, for Doctors, Nurses and the Police. Come on, grow up. It is okay to play on a level playing field sometime.

    3. Harsh

      For your information, everything was practiced irrespective of religion. Religion is something sacred,even small things offend you and preaches the your belief then it is too weak.

  4. Himalay Singh

    Though the muslim as minorities has taken the veil as a contention. But they must also see that radicalist philosphy does not work everytime given the fact that the large number students were held for the cheating case in during last examination. Why is this not talked about. And even if SC may have allowed then all women would have been sujected to frisking that might have created another issue. SC had allowed for the re-examination after lot of presure from parents.
    How can we let radical philosphy take its root in competition. It’s life and death for majority of students , what about them, we needed a safe passage.
    Even Sikh boys had agreed to put off turban to meet standard level of security clearences.
    I think the writer is unaware of technology used to cheat in examination, both boys and girls involved. So, you cannot connect the topic simply to feminism or minority groups issue.
    The SC is well aware of minority rights, gender equality rights and have always fought along side for them since independence. Here the author at one stroke presented his delusioned connected dots each having no connection to another.
    It is condemning patriachy, anti-minoritism and also accomodating space for it through the nod of few females,paradox.
    Secondly why will any well prepared student ever miss such a important examination.
    It also shows muslim minority is capable of undoing all the hardwork the nation like providing education, making space for muslims through reservations, reservation for girls has been doing at just one stroke of an issue.
    And important deterrent they have got the goat(bakri), i.e Right wing Hindu extremist to blame all wrong happening in this country. They included them in the issue even when they have no stake in the issue. Well done author. You Connected dilusioned dots.
    The muslim women can also be seen as to woo their patriachy. They have the education for independence-good, they also have religion card under their sleves which they may pull to attain patrarchial respect. Because generally I have observed Muslim women are forced to wear them, they have connected the hijab as apart of their false dignity and honour. Just like Honour killing in Hinduism.
    How can anyone wear it to feel to make it even a choice in tropical and temperate climatic conditions of India.
    Intresting part is that why are muslim women not forcing for more studies. Even hindu women are doing away with steryotypes and have taken feminism to new heights. They must learn from them. Becuase of them there are two distinct camps within one women camp. So they are not letting in a way the other women to fight for their issue. This could certainly make communication gap.

    1. Tawseef Malik

      undoubtedly no one can deny the fact that psychological dimension in which state institutions function has a deep imprint on their functioning.right to dissent is the very basis of democracy and therefore there is nothing wrong in contesting the judgements of supreme court. Indin state is facing a kind of paradoxical situation and that also bcz of democratic politics itself where even those who were initially committed to secularism are not in a position to enrich secular fabric of our is facing lot of problems not because of the voilance of bad people but because of the silence of good people.come forward and save india

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