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Bring Your Books, Hijab And Haya To School

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Kashmir being a Muslim majority region, religion has a major influence in deciding how someone gets an education. Though Kashmir has progressed into a comparatively liberal stance, some schools and institutions still have a conservative outlook towards life and society. From schools that require learning religion to gender segregation and traditional attires in supposedly liberal institutions, religion still affects how some girls get educated in Kashmir.

In Islam, an elaborate ruling for attire is ordained for both genders. A girl is supposed to cover herself from head to toe while outside the house. This concept of hijab can be a major factor in determining the way a girl gets an education.

Representational image. Credits: Prabhu B Doss | Flickr

In Kashmir, almost every school allows hijab, and there are even schools that teach religion as well. The concept of hijab and sometimes even purdah isn’t always a hindrance but mostly a prerequisite. If a school disallows hijab or religious attire, that school would be out of the question for some families, and they would prefer schools with a conservative dress code. In some schools, hijab and niqab are even compulsory whether a girl prefers it or not.

Aalima Ashiq, a student, shares that her experience of studying in a highly orthodox school was bittersweet. On the one hand, it helped her understand her religion better, added to her spirituality, compassion, and other virtues. A habit of praying regularly and on time was also inculcated in her from a young age.

On the other hand, a “school” as an institution stands on various pillars, “co-curricular activities” being one of them. She and her schoolmates were not allowed to participate in sports. When, by chance, they were allowed to do so, the uniform (which was an abaya and headgear) proved to be a hassle as wearing a sports uniform was completely out of the question. School life was mundane for the most part, as the curriculum was confined only to academics and sermons.

While the quality of education was good, in regards to both religious and worldly knowledge, there were also numerous obstacles”, she added. “Today’s highly competitive world demands us to be bold and confident, but, in my school, we were always taught to lower our gaze and forbidden to stand beside men, let alone talk to them. Consequently, when I had to face boys in debates in college, I used to back out. So, my school didn’t really prepare me to face the world outside the four walls of the school, which is home to both genders. My school was always conscious of students crossing the line of modesty. I have always wanted my school to be a little liberal in this case, at least.”

This brings us to another major debate about cross-gender interactions. Even though these interactions are common in Kashmir now, many people still frown upon them. There are many all-girls and all-boys schools, and in many major schools of the valley, the classes for boys and girls are segregated.

In such schools, interactions between boys and girls are almost forbidden, with the onus of blame mostly on girls to the extent of questioning their character. This doesn’t just create an unsavoury environment but also an unsupportive space, especially when it comes to serious instances of harassment in schools.

Meher un Nisa, another student from Kashmir, conveys that her school helped her in learning about the religion, but she also experienced moral and religious policing, gender stereotyping and most of all, presenting religion and God as something they should be afraid of.

Our school had separate wings for boys and girls, and extracurricular activities for girls were a dream, justified in the face of religion. Despite being a religious one, the school never made us understand the beauty and importance of religion in our lives. For a long time, I only respected the religion because I was scared of it.”

Muslims who make up the majority of the population in J&K with 67% of the total population are the least literate at 47.3% literacy rate with 58.7% being males and a dismal 34.9% being females. Religion is the backbone of the cultural fabric of Kashmir. The problem, however, doesn’t arise from the religious directives but the rampant misogyny veiled behind the garb of conservative and religious labels.

The main problem with this type of conservatism is that it sets out to misconstrue or straightaway misinterpret the religion for its own means. The line between what is culturally acceptable versus what is asked by religion is blurred. Take, for instance, the case of hijab; there is no point in hijab if a woman is supposed to stay at home. But the place considered best for a woman is undoubtedly her house. Another concern is interaction with the opposite gender. While historically woman has interacted with other men, with examples of women scholars teaching men religious texts, yet it is culturally enforced as a sin.

At the heart of all these restrictions is the fear that education may turn a woman away from her culture, religion, and gender-specific values. What does a society that believes the clothes of a woman bring calamity need the most? It needs education and knowledge to do away with not just cultural but religious ignorance as well. Because as Islam teaches us, knowledge is compulsory on women as much as it is on men.

Seeking knowledge is a compulsion on every Muslim.” -Prophet Muhammad

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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