The hijab, secularism and identity politics

Rohit Dhankar

Part A: Display of religious or community-identity symbols in public educational institutions

  1. Indian public education institutions have Saraswati pictures, religious prayers and various religious symbols displayed in their premises.
  2. Most institutions which have uniform for students allow Sikh head-dress as part of their uniform.
  3. In most of the institutions students and teachers can use markings on their person which may be religious in nature or otherwise indicate a particular community identity.
  4. Therefore, from the point of view of display of religious or community-identity symbols banning hijab (nikab, burka) in these institutions is unjustified discrimination if any of the other such symbols are allowed.
  5. It is also against the constitution as far as I understand.

Part B: Right of the institutions to decide their uniform

  1. Any institution which either receives public funds or wants recognition should not be allowed such discrimination.
  2. Private institutions which do not take any grant or receive public funds in any other form and do not want recognition from the government can certainly decide their uniform code that may selectively allow or ban certain symbols.
  3. That however will be again discriminatory, but as far as I understand not against the constitution.
  4. An additional issue in a uniform allowing hijab could be difficulty created by full body and face coverage, as there may be issues of concerned with identification of the person, security and possibility of using unfair means in examination. But that has to be resolved by other means rather than through a ban.

Part C: The issue of religious necessity

  1. None of the symbols and markings displayed except Sikh pagri are religiously necessary as far as I understand.
  2. Therefore religious argument is bogus.
  3. Even if something is religiously necessary it will not constitute a sound argument. Simply, because the person claiming religious necessity on the basis of whatever authority is bound to ignore many other religious injunctions, recommendations and markings.
  4. That will make insistence on only one of many equally supposed to be important religious necessities an opportunistic stand for alterior motives.
  5. Bringing in Quran as the source of religious authority is very untenable and extremely dangerous. The hatred for non-believers, Christians, Jews and idolaters is in Quran is rather raw and undisguised. Making all that religiously mandatory would be untenable.

Part D: The issue of identity politics

  1. The issue to my best judgment is actually an identity politics issue and not at all religious.
  2. To my mind it emerges from two problems in our definition of secularism and state attitude to secularism.
  3. Secularism is absolute necessity for a democracy. Democracy presently is absolute necessity for equality and freedom. Equality and freedom are absolute necessities for respecting human dignity. Thus, we have to take secularism as an unnegotiable fundamental principle.
  4. However, secularism as ‘equal respect’ for all religions is becoming untenable in India. Simply because equal respect is practiced as free for all in grabbing public space.
  5. It gives rise to intense completion for public visibility, grabbing physical space, bending laws and so on. Thus becomes a handy and dangerous tool for identity politics.
  6. Hijab and flaunting of saffron scarfs is exactly the kind of activities it encourages.
  7. A stricter version of secularism which disallowed any and all religious transgression of public space will be more manageable and fair.

Part E: Some undue comparisons

  1. Many wise cracks are comparing hijab with bindi, ghunghat, and sindur in educational institutions and saffron attire in assemblies etc.
  2. These comparisons are either mischievous or simply mistaken.
  3. Gughat is patriarchical dominance like hijab is. But no one actually uses ghughat in educational institutions. It is not religious at all.
  4. Sindur is again a symbol of patriarchical dominance but more as a warning to males who might want to approach the woman. Not a hiding of her charms. That is a very big difference. It may have some religious significance as well.
  5. Bindi is religious, but not necessarily patriarchical. It is more a mark of spiritual aspirations.
  6. State Assemblies and parliament have no uniforms and every one is allowed to choose their own attire there, including hijab.
  7. And most importantly, no one is punished publicly for not sporting bindi, ghunghat, sindur etc. No one is imprisoned or stoned or killed.
  8. This kind of comparison, if not a result to abysmal ignorance, is certainly mischievous, deliberately made to equate a definitely patriarchical and often cruelly enforced practice with other religious or social practices.


One Response to The hijab, secularism and identity politics

  1. Anonymous says:

    Agree with most if the points but saying that ni one is punished publicly for not sporting hindi, gunghat comparision is wrong.. You may get lots of verbal comment in public and at home which is a form of violence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: