Karnataka Hijab row: BJP push for polarization agenda

Muskan Khan, the lone girl walking bravely, even as a frenzied mob of hecklers, armed with sticks, menacingly chased her inside the College premises, raising the Saffron war-cry, became an evocative symbol across the world.

This gory and ghastly incident has shaken the conscience of the people around the world, as it poses a serious threat, not just to society, but also to the nationally-cherished civilizational and cultural ethos of India.

Hijab is so very akin to the Hindu practice of Ghoonghat, which is widely practiced in large parts of North India. If Hijab is to be banned, why not the Ghoonghat?

MS Education Academy

In her address to Oxford University on November 2, 1971, Indira Gandhi said, “Each country has a national personality, which it holds dear. That is what it keeps together.” This is being sought to be forcibly altered by the Saffron Brigade. The gory scenes witnessed in Karnataka are all part of a process and are not some isolated incidents.

The girl, who braved the hoodlums in the Government College in Mandya in Karnataka, has emerged as a Symbol of Resistance to the rising vigilante politics under the BJP dispensation.

Priyanka Assertion

Priyanka Gandhi, in a spirited response, famously said, “A woman has the right to wear whatever she wants, whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab. No one should tell her what to wear.”

Priyanka’s viewpoint is in consonance with the Indian Constitution, which guarantees Fundamental Right to make her own choice under Article 14 and under Article 25, it guarantees the Right to Freedom of Conscience and the Right to Profess, Practice and Propagate her faith.

In fact, the Hijab ban also violates Article 15 of the Constitution that forbids discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Besides, it violates Article 19, which guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression.

It is the right and choice of the girl whether to wear, or not to wear, Hijab. Period. There is no further scope for an artificial and a contrived debate on what is integral to Islam.

Polarization Agenda

The hijab ban is not a stand-alone issue. It is part of a long chain of polarizing issues, espoused by the BJP from time to time. Attacks on Christians, Anti-Conversion Law, Anti-Cow Slaughter Law, Moral Policing and now Hijab ban. This comes against the backdrop of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Triple Talaaq, Love Jihad and ever so many tactics to press ahead with its Polarization Agenda.

In Karnataka, state Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai succeeded B S Yediyurappa. At that time, it was believed he would be able to strike a balance on Hindutva Agenda. But the Bommai Government seems to have taken a sharp Right turn, more than under his predecessor, B S Yediyurappa, who is actually from the ranks of the RSS.

The Socialist Bommai and RSS B S Yediyurappa hardly have any difference. Socialists invariably end up with RSS, just as George Fernandes did, just like Acharya Narendra Dev and Ram Manohar Lohia.

Sample this. The Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP Government enacted the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, popularly called the Anti-Conversion Law, on the lines of other BJP-ruled States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, ostensibly more draconian.

This was preceded by a campaign of vigilante attacks on the Christian community.

The Karnataka Coastal belt witnessed a spike in moral policing incidents, which Bommai had even defended, saying, “There will always be a reaction when sentiments are hurt.”

Fir instance, B S Yediyurappa let Hindutva ideologues have their way. The B S Yediyurappa-led BJP Government enacted the Anti-Cow Slaughter legislation. He had gone to the extent of defending Tejasvi Surya when he targeted Muslim employees of the COVID-19 War Room during his last months in power.

Ban Is Ultra-Vires
Banning of Hijab is in contravention of Article 14 and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. It also violates the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to which India is signatory and has the obligation to honour its implementation, including Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees Freedom of Conscience and Freedom to Profess, Practice and Propagate one’s Faith.

This can be regulated only on grounds of Public Order, Morality and Health. Besides, this limitation can be imposed only through legislation, which is not in contravention of the Constitutional provisions, in this case, Article 14 and Article 25.

Secondly, Religious Rights are subject to Fundamental Rights. But Article 14, that guarantees Fundamental Rights, is paramount and sacrosanct. In this case, the entire debate, as to whether or not Hijab is integral to Islam, fades away, as the girl enjoys the Fundamental Right to her choice.

On none of these counts can Hijab be objected to. In which case, any limitation imposed on it is tantamount to violation of Article 25 of the Constitution.

That way, Hijab ban violates Article 14 that guarantees Fundamental Rights and Article 25 that guarantees the Right to Profess, Practice and Propagate one’s Faith.

Wholly Arbitrary

Reasonable restrictions can be imposed, only through the enactment of a law. But, no such law was enacted. Instead, a wholly arbitrary order was made, banning Hijab.

There is also the element of arbitrariness. Girls were admitted to the educational institutions with Hijab. Just ahead of the examinations, attempts were made to impose the Hijab ban arbitrarily.

Any restrictions to be imposed should be founded on the principle of equity and fairplay. It cannot target one section, while letting off the hook the other section.

This apart, India is signatory to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion. The Human Rights Council governs the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

India has the international obligations to honour the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantee Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion.

Global Embarrassment

The Hijab protests have come as a serious embarrassment for the Modi Government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a great votary and supporter of the United States of America. But the recent by the US Administration has forced the Modi Government on the backfoot.

The US Government sharply reacted to ban on Hijab, which is arbitrary and not in consonance with any existing law of the land.

The International Religious Freedom (IRF), a United States Government body, which monitors and reports on religious freedom abroad, had seriously criticized the Hijab ban as violative of religious freedom.

IRF Ambassador-at-Large Rashad Hussain tweeted, “Hijab bans in schools violate religious freedom.”

Rashad Hussain was appointed Ambassador-at-Large for IRF by the US Senate in December in 2021. He is the first Muslim Ambassador-at-Large for IRF.

Previously, Rashad Hussain held several high-level positions in the US Government, including serving as the Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during the Obama Administration.

SC Bommai Verdict

The S R Bommai Judgment of Supreme Court, which is often quoted in the context of imposition of President’s Rule by dismissing the State Government, is also a landmark verdict for its ruling on Secularism.

The Supreme Court had ruled in the S R Bombai Judgment that Secularism is part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution. That was the basis for justifying the dismissal of four BJP-Ruled State Governments of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, in the wake of the dastardly demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

No wonder, frequently noises are made from within the Sangh Parivar, demanding replacing the Indian Constitution. While the ruling BJP aversion to Secularism is well-known, there is no way it can act in any manner contrary to the Constitutional scheme of things.

There can be no compromise on Secularism, whatever be the political persuasion of a political party. Therein lies the utter discomfiture of the Modi Establishment.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

Views expressed are personal

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