Inclusivity is a fancy word and an ideology which is a key aspect of secular spaces.
In India, a country that boasts of its secular nature, inclusivity is envisioned in many circles, especially the academic ones. However, the biggest challenge with inclusivity is welcoming heterogeneity, which is evidently not everyone’s cup of tea. In a recent incident in Mangaluru, this essence of heterogeneity was crushed at St. Agnes College.
Fathima Fazeela, who completed her first pre-university college (PUC) from the said institute, was denied admission to the second year on account of wearing the hijab. The college is adamant with their clothing rules, which they claim are to maintain order and discipline, discouraging the wearing of the hijab.
Fathima has been issued a transfer certificate for the same, but without being given a reason in writing. She
claims that she was not made aware of any such rule before the admissions. However, in her first year, she was constantly warned to remove the hijab, which she ardently did not do. Now being denied admission in the second year, she has also filed a complaint with the district administration.
Although this incident is disturbing, it is not surprising given the college had seen a range of protests last year by Muslim students on campus who had agitated against the college’s rule of disallowing the hijab. The college had then issued a clarification that wearing the hijab was not allowed only inside the classrooms, whereas wearing it outside the class was not a problem.
Having gone through a series of threads on this incident, I am still trying to figure out the logical link between education and clothing. The informal justifications that were given by the college look consistently unconvincing, as the college administration has also denied issuing any statement in writing. Another argument, which surfaces in the issue, is that of Fathima’s non-compliance with the college rules.
But then, the debate turns into one that’s based on the nature of such rules. Fathima, an adult, must not be restricted from practising her right to wear anything she wants to. It is her informed choice of wearing the hijab and functioning in public spaces in her own country.
St. Agnes’ College is evidently struggling with its principles of inclusivity. After such an incident, the larger picture encompasses two scenarios. Firstly, such a tussle is an outright disruption of a person’s freedom of clothing and consequently, it infringes upon their right to choose. Secondly, if such college rules exist, where learning is mixed with clothing, the education of women comes under threat. This is because of the fact that we cannot ignore the cultural and religious customs, which have certain ways of making women carry their attire.
Whether these ways are right or wrong is another debate altogether, but if academic spaces start filtering students on the basis of these archaic measures, I am afraid that women will never even have a chance to evaluate their traditions and cultures.
Education is the foremost platform for exposure and learning. It must be accessible to each and every person, regardless of their gender, culture and religion. It is the academic spaces of a country on which one can rely most for the upliftment of the citizens. With this case coming into the limelight, it is important for our institutions to rethink their policies and figure out what makes them implement such illogical and dehumanizing rules.