What Muslim women want: Equality, equal opportunities and definitely not hijab

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True purdah resided in the heart and had little to do with its external observance. If half of a population remained paralysed through an ignorant and evil custom, how could we ever aspire to be free and great.

—My Days with Gandhi, by Nirmal Kumar Ghosh, Page No. 140

The Udupi hijab issue has taken the shape of a national as well as an international debate. Supporters of hijab and burqa argue that the dress is an essential part of Islam and they should get an exemption to wear it in educational institutes. Opinions and counter-opinions are flying thick and fast between pro and anti-burqa relaxation groups. Meanwhile hijab and burqa supporters are adamant that denying them the choice to wear these attires to schools is an attack on their faith and their constitutional rights. Posters even came up in parts of Maharashtra saying, ‘First Hijab, Then Kitab (books)’ effectively translating into ‘No Hijab, no Studies’.

In this entire conflict we have forgotten what lies at the core of this issue. Women should hide their identities and for that the burqa and hijab should be adorned. How is such a thinking pro-women? In reality, there should be an in depth, informed discussion on this critical question that affects the lives of millions of women. However, our so-called ‘liberals’ have used the rope of burqa and tied it with a fundamental right to achieve their own political agendas. They did not even once bother that by reducing it to a matter of choice, they actually went against their own position wherein they champion the modern-day rights of women. All this is to mislead the Muslim community so that they can play their messiahs and use them as a weapon against their ideological opponents.

File image of activists protesting in Kolkata. PTI

Behind hijab and burqa lies a patriarchal school of thought. Intertwining that with the right of women, can there be anything more tragic than that? The injustice does not stop there. We are now witnessing dangerous rumours being circulated across the country, saying that the hijab, niqab and burqa are now banned across India. Our enemy nation states too are trying their best to stoke the flames and are desperately wanting the law and order situation to deteriorate in India. The truth however is that no such ban has been proposed, the matter is about following the uniform dress code of a school, which applies to all the students across India’s eight religious communities. How can such a demand for equality be turned upside down and called discriminatory?

If the issue of hijab was a matter of life and death for those eight students in Karnataka, then why were there no protests across India when in 2019 Kerala-based ‘Muslim Education Society’ banned niqab across 150 of its educational institutes, thus affecting the ‘essential’ dress codes for its students? Answer is that the troublemakers who are fuelling the current agitation, could not bring in an ‘oppressor’ Hindu versus ‘oppressed’ Muslim narrative into that episode.

We, especially the Muslim society, will have to ask questions on the issue of hijab and burqa. This will help us understand that the matter is not about the rights of Muslim women, but an attempt to keep them under purdah and to play politics over it. The biggest question for me is that all those people nowadays speaking about rights of Muslim women, are they really concerned about their plight? Are they their true well-wishers?

We need to remind ourselves time and again that the biggest setback for the rights of Indian Muslim women came into effect the day the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, overturned the decision of the Supreme Court. The alimony which was the right of Shah Bano (a poor Muslim lady) granted by none other than SC, who was divorced by her husband, was taken back because AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board) mounted massive protests across India against the SC decision.

File image of of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Getty Images

This historic injustice of the Shah Bano case weakened the fight for the rights of Muslim women and due to this, it took more than 70 years since Independence to abolish the evil practice of triple talaq. Even after the abolition of triple talaq, Muslim women have still not got legal rights in the manner which women of other communities have. Societal reforms in the community are begging to be implemented. Hindu code bill has ensured the safety and dignity of our Hindu sisters. As progress and reforms take place in other communities, the religious clergy within our community ensure that no such positive development takes place for the women here. Practices like Halala, polygamy, child brides continue unabated. Muslim women are shackled with many historically prejudiced customs and the radical clergy is relentless in safeguarding such harsh practices in the name of religion.

As Indians we need to address the societal realities of Muslim women and work on finding solutions. The endeavour instead by the ‘liberals’ seems to be about finding ways to justify the practice of enforcing burqa and hijab on young girl children. As of now, this is what sadly they are indulging in. As long as Muslim women are subjected to being second class citizens by their religious clergy, till then the Muslim community cannot become successful.

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Also Read

Interview | Hijab is akin to chastity belt that turns women into sex objects, says Taslima Nasrin as she bats for Uniform Civil Code

Karnataka hijab controversy: Indian democracy enters uncharted territory of grave danger

Opinion | On ‘Hijab Day’, the only choice is to drop the cloth for ‘No Hijab Day’

Karnataka hijab controversy: Why Modi government should seriously think about Uniform Civil Code

History will not be kind to ‘liberals’ cheerleading for hijab and burqa

Amid Udupi hijab controversy, demand for Uniform Civil Code grows stronger

The planned Udupi hijab spark and the need for Uniform Civil Code

Udupi hijab row: A pre-planned move to stoke communal tension in Karnataka’s sensitive coastal belt?

There’s a good case to ban hijab in schools, but Congress cheers orthodoxy

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As we explore the problems, we can come up with two options. Either codify the personal laws of each religion, or we bring in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for all communities residing in India. As a woman, I am strongly in favour of UCC, which secures the legal right of every Indian Muslim women and that of all women, from every faith. It empowers all of us.

As a woman I believe UCC can be a milestone to safe-guard every Indian women’s right regardless of her religion, caste and creed. Since UCC will be based on universal human rights, every Indian citizen should support it.

The writer is a research and policy analyst. Views expressed are personal.

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What Muslim women want: Equality, equal opportunities and definitely not hijab
What Muslim women want: Equality, equal opportunities and definitely not hijab
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