Muslim Women vs. the Hindutva Project

On January 14th, 2022, professor Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, who had previously predicted the Rwandan genocide of 1994, made a similar statement on the impending genocide of India’s Muslims. Genocide Watch has tracked the process of genocide development in India since 2002. His recent statements developed in light of various Dharm Sansads (religious conferences) organized in several Indian cities by Hindu religious leaders, who called upon Hindus to arm themselves for the wholesale massacre of Muslims. This is no recent development: the agenda for genocide has been gaining traction for a long time now. Most people mistakenly believe Hindu nationalism is the sole proprietorship of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In reality, however, Islamophobia is embedded within India’s dominant political lingua franca, including the nation’s opposition parties. Hence, it is not surprising that in the latest attack against Muslims (regarding hijab and niqab in colleges and educational institutions) not a single united front of support has emerged from the majority community. 

On January 1st, news broke out that the Government PU College for Girls, in Udupi, Karnataka, refused to let hijabi or niqabi students enter their classes. PU College stated that such apparel reflected a flouting of its dress code and resulted in non-uniformity amongst students. Ironically, the college rulebook specifically mentions hijab as permissible so long as it matches the student’s uniform; furthermore, the girls in question had been wearing hijab for well over three years while attending the college. Though several Muslim male students protested attending classes so long as their female peers were unable to do the same, the girls received little public support for their righteous resistance. As they sat outside the college gates in protest of being denied their education just two months before crucial examinations, the girls instead faced the mobilization of Hindutva and Hindu youth, including their own classmates, against them. Demonstrators paraded the scene donning saffron scarves, signifying Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. The use of such clothing in furtherance of the Hindutva agenda reveals that this was a religious altercation under the facade of debating uniformity, college regulations, secularism, and feminism, against a backdrop of religious and communal fault lines.

The female classmates of the hijabi students mobilized with saffron scarves, turbans and bindis, contributing to the disturbance of order. The mob of Hindu students and activists threatened to boycott classes unless the girls were forced to remove their hijab. Following the example of PU College, several other educational institutions refused entry to Muslim students while scores of saffron mobs extended their harassment to nearby colleges. On February 7th, the PU College authorities allowed the girls to return on the condition that they sit in a separate room where no teaching will be provided to them. The Hindutva State is made fragile by the devotion of India’s Muslims, no matter their age. Modern India prefers to deprive her Muslims, her citizens, of education, than uphold its founding Ambedkarite constitutional principles. A religious apartheid system is effectively being put into place in the name of secularism in India, at the cost of Muslim religious practices.

It cannot be ignored that Muslims constitute 14% of the population of India, making them the largest minority community in the country. Indian Muslims also form the largest Muslim community globally, yet they perform extremely poorly on almost all social indices. The literacy rate for Indian Muslims, especially women, is the lowest in the country, which is a direct result of decades of ghettoization and marginalization. The banning of the hijab is only the latest in a series of hurdles between Muslims and access to education; prior obstacles have included the mandatory singing of Hindu ‘bhajans’ (Hindu religious songs) in public schools, celebration of Hindu festivals in the classroom, hostility from faculty members and colleagues, unavailability of Urdu in higher education (a language in which many Indian Muslims receive their primary education), as well as prejudice in the admission process. At present, this matter is being heard in the High Court, where the opposition argues in terms of secularism, nationalism, and uniformity.

Another minority group in India, the Sikhs, who are required to wear a turban as a marker of their religious identity, have not been stopped from doing so. This only confirms how the present agitation is purely Islamophobic and has nothing to do with communal and/or religious uniformity. It must be noted that liberal-secular sections of the country work in close rapport with Hindu extremists. India’s Liberals are just as, if not more, keen to criminalise Muslim sensibilities and justify Hindu privileges (including violence) by adhering to orientalist notions of “saving” Muslim women from the supposed oppression they are born under and live with in perpetuity. The mainstream media only fans the communal flames surrounding these debates on feminism, patriarchy, and the brainwashing Muslim girls allegedly face by their fathers and male relatives. 

Following Karnataka, another state, Madhya Pradesh, has faced calls to ban Muslim head coverings at public institutions. Meanwhile, Raghupathi Bhat, a Member of Legislative Assembly from Udupi, has accused the young girls of having “vested interests” to foster public instability and destroy social order. In this environment, we see the emergence of horrifying visuals: massive mobs of students and Right-Wing Hindutva activists in saffron shawls, pelting Muslims with stones as they chant, “Jai Sri Ram.” Several Right-Wing actors have joined the mobs, pretending to be students as they heckle Muslim women. This is a common practice among many Hindutva extremists who desire to sow communal violence and disorder. The slogan of “Jai Sri Ram” has become nothing less than a war cry for Hindu Nationalists. To our great sorrow, these are often the last words an Indian Muslim will hear prior to being lynched to death by the mob. The phrase precedes and accompanies every hate crime, every lynching, riot, public burning, and attempt at mob justice. Hindu religious assertion has become synonymous with the intimidation of Muslims. As per the latest reports, the profiling of Kashmiri students in several colleges of Karnataka has also begun. 

This, however, isn’t the first instance of identification, profiling, and attacks against Muslims based on religious markers. While Muslim women in hijab or niqab face discrimination in the public sphere, Muslim men with beards are also frequently denied jobs or admission to public institutions. In late 2021, an app called “Sulli Deals” went viral on social media; it attempted to traffic several hundred Muslim women using their pictures and social media handles. At the very start of 2022, a mutant of the same app, called “Bulli Deals,” attempted to auction Muslim women once again as objects of either sexual gratification or as personal chattel. [1] During the historic anti-CAA NRC protests led by the Muslim community in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a provocative statement on using Muslim religious markers to identify them: “Kapdon se pehchane jayenge” (“[They] will be recognised by their clothes”). He directly alluded to the customary Kurta-pajama, skull cap clothing of many Indian Muslim men, as well as the burqa and/or hijab for Indian Muslim women. Such is India’s Islamophobic lingua franca; its ideas are consistently practiced by Hindutva acolytes, as visibly Muslim Indians have been the prime targets of lynching and mobbing. 

The current opposition to hijab must be situated within a larger context of state interference in Muslim life: lynching Muslims for consuming beef or cow products (considered a holy animal to the majority of Hindus), twisting Islamic laws such as Talaq in order to criminalise Muslim men without evidence, demanding a Uniform Civil Code that takes away the liberty of Muslims to follow shar’ia. [2] [3] These social and legal policies are put into place to force Muslims into invisibility and displace them to the margins of social life. All eyes must be on India as the immoral and malevolent specter of genocide continues to brew and threatens to overspill at any moment. 

UPDATES: In order to further harass the protesting girls, the Udupi college has leaked the personal information such as address and phone numbers of the hijabi students due to which they are facing multiple threats and abusive messages.

The High Court has offered no relief till now and has passed an interim order asking the girls from refraining to wear religious clothing till the final verdict is passed.

Works Cited

[1] ‘Bulli Bai’, ‘Sulli Deals’: On Being Put Up for ‘Auction’ as an Indian Muslim Woman

[2] ‘Look at Their Clothes’: Modi Plays Communal Card on CAA, Targets Muslim Protestors

[3] A Year Later, Are Instant Triple Talaq Culprits Actually Going to Jail?

Photo via Rupinder Singh

About the Author: Hanan Irfan is an engineer and independent writer from India. You can follow here on social media here.

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