Iran to India, let women decide their hijab rules - Hindustan Times
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Iran to India, let women decide their hijab rules

Sep 30, 2022 09:10 PM IST

The choice between the right to education and allowing girls to wear a headscarf with their uniforms is a no-brainer. The girls must be allowed their fundamental right to expression, privacy and autonomy.

In Iran, the extraordinary sight of women dancing, singing and chanting as they toss their headscarves, or hijabs, into bonfires. In India, the extraordinary sight of girls waiting to be admitted into their classrooms as they sit in silent protest outside in their hijabs. Commentators on social media have pointed to the seeming discrepancy of the feminist argument that supports the right to take off the hijab by women in Iran while rooting for the right to wear it by school girls in India.

There is no contradiction. The fundamental point in both countries is a woman’s right to choose. PREMIUM
There is no contradiction. The fundamental point in both countries is a woman’s right to choose.

There is no contradiction. The fundamental point in both countries is a woman’s right to choose.

Nayema Nasir, now 33, began wearing a hijab in the 11th grade. She describes her relationship with the headscarf as “organic”, even stopping to wear it temporarily after her baby was born when she said she gained a lot of weight and lost confidence in how her body appeared. Moreover, she added, she was breastfeeding. “I thought, my chest is open but my head is covered. How does this make sense?”

In the end, said Nasir, who completed her Master of Philosophy (MPhil) from Ambedkar University, it is a question of personal choice. “The government has no business to be in my closet,” she said. “But it is equally true that the hijab represents a religion and an ideology.”

At a time when that religion is perceived to be under threat against majoritarian might — India’s 200 million Muslim citizens lag on several parameters from education to health and jobs — wearing a hijab can become a symbol of cultural identity.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s outreach efforts to the Muslim community recognise this feeling of alienation. But, until he can win back a certain degree of confidence, opting to wear a hijab can be a political statement for some.

There is no saying how the Supreme Court will rule on a clutch of petitions challenging an earlier Karnataka high court order. But one thing seems clear: The choice between the right to education and allowing girls to wear a headscarf with their uniforms is a no-brainer. The girls must be allowed their fundamental right to expression, privacy and autonomy.

It needs to be said that many of those opposing this autonomy in Iran and India are men. Threatened by what the protests in Iran could lead to, the male, theocratic regime is cracking down with unprecedented brutality. Already 76 are dead, say reports.

In India, men in saffron shawls jeered at women in a hijab. It is the patriarchal State that affirmed that it had the right to impose a uniform sans hijab even if it meant denying Muslim girls access to their classrooms.

The minds and bodies of girls cannot become a battleground of patriarchy. The job of an educational institute is to be inclusive, to open doors and not shut them to those who most want to learn.

Namita Bhandare writes on genderThe views expressed are personal

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