From an old woman used as a prop in Shaheen Bagh to the young girls in Udupi refusing to give their exams without a hijab, a sinister pattern of events is unfolding in India
Udupi, apart from having the reputation for introducing healthy breakfast options like the idly, is also known for its lush green forests of the Western Ghats, the rivers, and streams that merge into the Arabian sea. A temple-town in coastal Karnataka, it has time and again contributed to the cultural consciousness of the Hindu faith. After all, this is one of the reasons you see many temples and mathas that propagate different philosophies emulated by the likes of Madhvacharya. The social indices are high, with the region performing better than the state and national averages on the Human Development Index (HDI) front, as far as the standards of living, health, and education are concerned.
Over time, as a result of numerous invasions from land and sea, the resistance from the natives against barbarians like Tipu Sultan got moulded with some traces of cultural pronouncements. For this reason, Canara is dubbed by a certain section of the press as a “Hindutva bastion of the south” that adds communal colours at every possible juncture. This is not just libellous and insulting to the people and the region, but also highlights the superficial understanding of a few journalists who selectively praise the (occasional) weak-kneed pusillanimity of the majority Hindu population. ‘Majoritarian restraint’ may be a keyword here that’s lauded. If anything, it is symbolic of the tolerance that the Hindu faith represents. The reality is, a tyrant like Tipu Sultan was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Catholic Christians from the coast. His savagery is shrouded by attempts to secularise and ‘politically rehabilitate’ him by parties like the Indian National Congress and the far-right Islamist forces in the state. With the ongoing controversy surrounding the six Muslim girls who refuse to give their exams without a hijab, similar patterns can be observed.
Udupi is our home where we spent a better part of our childhood and youth. We always wore a uniform, regardless of which faith we belonged to. Udupi is, in some sense, more dharmic than the rest of the regions in the state, due to the aforementioned reasons. But at a place of worship, we are unabashedly traditional with our choice of clothing due to the cultural affinity. The same, for logical reasons, hasn’t applied to educational institutions. We, for one, are truly let down with the current developments not because we see a certain mandated religious outfit as a sign of oppression and patriarchy, but merely because this has installed a communal bug into the minds of our younger demographic whose innocence has been taken away by shady political forces operating in the background.
The reality is, a majority of Muslim children belonging to the same institution had no problem whatsoever in donning the prescribed uniform. Only a handful of them, with alleged connections to suspicious outfits, have made a mockery of the entire country with assistance from the media. It even baffles us that we need to tell this out loud, but the idea behind a uniform is that there is a sense of equality. That there is discipline and an atmosphere that enables focused learning for students, irrespective of their creed, culture, caste, and other identities. It negates a sense of separation. It blinds the bichromatic lenses with which children grow up.
We hate to draw these equivalences, but women in places like Iran were attacked with acid for not wearing the hijab as per the patriarchal standards of that society. In Afghanistan, women protest every day for freedom from hijab that seeks to repress their identity, rights, and existence. Well-known #FreeFromHijab activist Masih Alinejad once famously said, “Wearing a hijab is what the Islamic Republic wants me to be, this is what the Taliban and ISIS want us to be, and this is my true self (takes off the hijab). In Iran, I was told if I take off my hijab I will be hanged with my hair by God. I get kicked out from school, I get lashes, I get jailed, I get fined, I get beaten up in the street every day by the morality police. If I get raped it’s my fault. If I take off my hijab I won’t be able to exist as a woman in my homeland. In the West I am told, if I share my stories then I will cause Islamophobia. I am a woman from the Middle East and I am scared of Islamic laws, I am scared of all the brutalities that I have experienced. Phobia is an irrational fear but my fear and the fear of millions of other women who lived under Sharia law in the Middle East is rational, so let us talk.”
Muslims in the Canara region are much more affluent and modern as compared to the rest of the state. The argument that “education and employment will not lead to radicalisation” and that “poverty made Burhan Wani pick up guns” won’t stand the test of basic reasoning and common sense. Yes, these girls are being robbed of their future, but not by the Hindu Right, but by the same shady political forces who are using them as cannon-fodder to further their questionable agendas.
One of the possible intentions of creating this polarisation may also stem from the fact that five Indian states are heading for elections soon. With social media, (many educated) youth are being radicalised and recruited even to terror outfits like ISIS and the Taliban to further a pan-Islamist agenda. Interestingly, Indian Mujahideen was formed in Bhatkal, which is just a few miles away from where the protests are taking place.
Furthermore, if you were to glance at the 2016 Pakistani Senate report linked to the latest situations between India and Pakistan, it has been written in thick ink that they intend to identify “India’s own fault-lines” that include the internal insurgencies and target RSS-BJP combine and their ideology of Hindutva. Point number nine is the most important. It states that Pakistan should work on a “comprehensive outreach to those segments of the Indian public opinion which are opposed to Modi’s extremism and his anti-Pakistan policies including political parties, media, civil society organisations, and human rights groups.”
The writing on the wall is very clear. The patterns are very evident. From an old woman used as a prop in Shaheen Bagh to the young girls in Udupi, a very dicey pattern of events is unfolding in India that the public needs to be aware of.
With inputs from Shiv Bhatia
Rashmi Samant is a former president-elect at the University of Oxford. She’s a human rights activist. Sharan Setty is an Associate Editor at Citti Media network. He hosts shows on politics, national security, and foreign affairs. Views expressed are personal.
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