The Indian Law and the Islamic Customary Practice of Women Wearing Hijab
What is a Hijab?
In some cases, the hijab is worn by a woman when she’s with men who aren’t in her own family. For other Muslims, it’s equally important to wear a hijab in the presence of non-Muslims, including women. Still other practicing Muslims choose not to wear a hijab at all.
The word hijab is Persian, from the Arabic ḥajaba, or “veil.” (Rumaney, 2021)
Why do Islamic Women wear Hijab?
Wearing a hijab is deeply rooted in Islam but is not mentioned in the Quran3, instead it is mentioned in the Khimar4. Verse 59 of Surah Al-Ahzab, states, “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be recognised and not be abused. And ever is Allah forgiving and merciful.” (The Hindu Bureau, 2022)
Westernisation started dominating Muslim countries between the 1960s and the 1970s. The resurgence of hijab began in Egypt in the late-twentieth century as a means to reunite and rededicate to the Islamic faith. The movement was known as Sahwah5 and the female pioneers of the movement adopted the Islamic dress, which was made up of an unfitted, full-sleeved, ankle length gown with a head cover that covers the chest and back. This type of a dress was called as a burqa. (Javaid, 2022)
Despite many criticisms of the practice of hijab being oppressive and detrimental to women’s equality, many Muslim women view the way of dress to be a positive thing. The dress code was seen as a way to avoid harassment and unwanted sexual advances in public and works to desexualize6 women in the public sphere to allow them to enjoy equal rights of completely legal, economic, and political status.
However, controversy erupted over the dress code and people from all backgrounds questioned the donning of hijab and what it stood in terms of women and their rights. People questioned whether in practice the hijab a female choice was truly or if women were being coerced or pressured into wearing it.
Ever since the discussion and discourse on the hijab intensified, some nations have attempted to put a ban on hijab while others have made it compulsory for women to wear hijab.
How many countries have banned the Hijab?
There are currently 14 countries that have banned the burqa, including Tunisia, Austria, Denmark, France, Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Netherlands, Morocco, China, Sri-Lanka, Switzerland. (FP Explainers, 2022)
Is Hijab banned in India?
India is a vey diverse country with many religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. According to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, India is a secular7 country and gives equal importance to all the religions, and lets its citizens freedom to practice, process and propagate any religion.
No, Hijab is not banned in India, but in January 2022 a dispute pertaining to school uniforms was reported in a government school in Karnataka where a Muslim girl was denied entry in the school because she was wearing a Hijab. Over the following weeks, the dispute spread to other colleges and schools across the state, with groups of Hindu students staging counter-protests by demanding to wear saffron scarves. This led to various protests in the schools and colleges and outside the schools and colleges and also a petition8 was filed in the Karnataka High Court.
The Hijab Controversy of Karnataka
This whole Hijab controversy started in MGM college9 in Karnataka. Some college girls were not allowed entry in the classroom as they were wearing hijabs, which was not in their prescribed college uniform. The girls started protesting for their rights which led to various protests across the country. When news reporters asked these Muslim girls about why they were wearing hijabs which were not a part of their school uniform, their answer was that – “Hijab protects their dignity and because they have been wearing it since an early age.”
Another girl said that – “Hijab is their first priority and education is their second priority.”
The same question was asked to Hindu girls, and the students said that school is the only place where students from all religions come to study in a uniform way. The students said that if Muslim girls are allowed to wear headscarves/Hijabs then all students should be allowed to wear scarves, because the point of wearing a uniform is that all students should be equal in all aspects, and that if they want to wear hijabs and study then they should go in the colleges which allow them to wear hijabs and not study in this college.
The matter was taken to the High Court of Karnataka.
The Hearing and Verdict of the Case in Karnataka High Court
Petitions were filed in the Karnataka High court on behalf of the aggrieved10 students. On 8th February, the government closed high schools and colleges for three days due to protests and disputes over the wearing of the hijab. On 10th February, the High Court issued an interim11 order restraining all students from wearing any form of religious attire.
When the schools reopened on 14th February, the interim order was implemented in all schools and colleges across Karnataka, with students, and in some cases teachers, being asked to remove hijabs and burqas outside the school gates.
After a hearing of about 23 hours spread over 11 days, the court delivered its verdict on 15th March 2022, upholding the restrictions on hijab. The court ruled that the Hijab is not an essential religious practice in Islam and, hence, it is not protected by the Article 25 of the constitution setting out the fundamental right to practice one’s religion. (Plumber, 2022)
Wearing a Hijab in India is not banned in public areas in India, and it will not be banned in the near future as India is a secular country. The decision taken by the Karnataka High Court was correct according to me because it only restricted girls to not wear hijabs in schools and colleges as schools and colleges are places where a student goes to acquire knowledge and also learn certain moral values such as equality. The way through which equality is taught in Indian schools and colleges is through a uniform dress code which each and every student has to follow if they are studying in that school or college because before getting admission in that school or college the parents and the students have to agree to the terms and conditions of the school or college and if they don’t do that then their children will not be admitted to
that school or college because a school and college runs on its own terms and conditions or with the terms and conditions prescribed by the Government of India.
Another question arised in the minds of people when all kinds of religious attire were banned by the High Court of Karnataka, then Why were Sikh students allowed to wear turban and go to schools and colleges?
The simple answer to this question was that wearing a turban is an essential practice in Sikhism and if the court restrained the Sikh students to wear the turban, then the court would have infringed their fundamental right of practicing their religion.
Also, all schools and colleges which have uniforms have prescribed the Sikh students to wear a turban only of the colour of their uniform and no other colours.
Due to this, another question arose that if Sikh students can be allowed to wear a turban of the school uniform colour, then why can’t Muslim girls be allowed to wear hijabs of the colour of their uniform?
The answer to this was that wearing a hijab is not an essential part of Islam whereas wearing a turban is an essential part of Sikhism. Therefore, Hijabs are not allowed only in schools and colleges, but women are allowed to wear it outside schools and colleges.
I would like to share a conversation of mine with two Muslim women who were wearing hijabs in the Delhi Metro. I was a bit hesitant at first before approaching them to ask them about Hijabs and about their views on the situation that happened in Karnataka because the metro was really crowded and also, I was afraid of what if they reacted in an offensive manner. But I gathered courage, went to them, and introduced myself to them and also asked them whether they felt comfortable in answering these two questions.
They both introduced themselves and agreed to answer the questions, the two women had the Mother Daughter relation. So, the answer to the first question that is, why do Muslim women wear Hijabs? was answered by the first woman, who the mother of the second woman was. She said that she was ordered to wear the hijab at an early age by her parents because of two reasons, the first reason was, because it was their tradition of dressing modestly and the second reason was, so that the girl should feel safe from the evil men12 in the society. When I asked her what she meant by evil, she replied that evil men are those men who look at women as an object and not a human being. So, for being safe from such men in the society they were asked to wear hijabs by their parents and because of these two reasons this tradition is being passed on from one generation to the other.
The second question, about the situation in Karnataka whether they agreed with it or not?
Both the women had a neutral answer for it. They had no problem with the judgement of the High Court of Karnataka. But they said that nowadays girls are not safe even in schools and colleges as a lot of rapes are happening even in schools and colleges. They said that schools and colleges should be places where students should be given education not only from books but also, they should be given moral values so that they do not end up becoming evil men in the future. They ended the conversation by saying an especially important statement that, if by wearing the same uniform students see each other as equal, then the schools should also teach them that there is no difference between men and women and both men and women are equal in all aspects.
If this mentality13 of the society changes then all women can feel safe wherever they go at anytime of the day/night and also wearing any type of clothes. Thus, transforming India into a safe country for both men and women.
FP Explainers. (2022, March 15). Hijab ban stays in Karnataka: A look at countries where veils are barred. Retrieved from www.firstpost.com: https://www.firstpost.com/world/hijab-ban-stays-in-karnataka-a-look-at-countries-where-veils-are-barred-10460931.html
Javaid, A. (2022, February 11). History of hijab in Islam: Why Muslim women wear hijab? Retrieved from www.m.jagranjosh.com: https://m.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/history-of-hijab-in-islam-1644244440-1
Plumber, M. (2022, March 15). Holy Quran Does Not Mandate Wearing Of Hijab; Islam Does Not Cease To Exist If Hijab Is Not Followed : Karnataka High Court. Retrieved from www.livelaw.in: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/holy-quran-does-not-mandate-wearing-of-hijab-islam-does-not-cease-to-exist-if-hijab-is-not-followed-karnataka-high-court-194223
Rumaney, H. S. (2021). Not Without My Hijab: Experiences of Veiled Muslim Women in India. Human Arenas 2021.
The Hindu Bureau. (2022, March 15). Hijab not an essential practice of Islam, rules Karnataka High Court. Retrieved from www.thehindu.com: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/wearing-of-hijab-is-not-an-essential-practice-as-per-islamic-faith-karnataka-high-court/article65226798.ece
Photo credit: The Telegraph | JAGADEESH NV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
- Hijab – A head covering scarf worn by Muslim women in public places signifying modesty and privacy.
- Modesty – The quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.
- Quran – The holy book of Islam.
- Khimar – A long veil worn by Muslim women as part of hijab.
- Sahwah – Period of powerful social and political change in Saudi Arabia between 1960s and 1980s.
- Desexualize – Deprive of sexual character or the distinctive qualities of a sex.
- Secular – Not connected with religious or spiritual matters.
- Petition – A formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a particular cause.
- MGM College – Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College Udupi.
- Aggrieved – Feeling resentment at having been unfairly treated.
- Interim – During the same time.
- Evil Men – Here, evil men refer to men who objectify women or men who sexually abuse women.
- Mentality – The characteristic way of thinking of a person or group.