One needs to be careful in extending support to a cause whose motives are suspect and which perpetuates patriarchy.
To view the hijab brouhaha merely as a spontaneous isolated altercation between a clutch of girls and the college authorities of a government run institution in Udupi, Karnataka is to miss the wood for the trees. When carefully parsed, this confrontation appears to be an orchestrated controversy that is a part of a bigger gameplan; a design that clearly has fundamentalist and political undertones and is a subtle attempt by some to hijack the secularism of the nation by exploiting its fault lines.
To fully comprehend the issue, we need to examine the sequence of events that led to this crisis. While events came to head in early January, the makings of this controversy can be traced back to October-November 2021. On 29 October, 2021, some Muslim girl students who had participated in an ABVP-organised protest against a sexual assault on a student came to the notice of the Campus Front of India (CFI), a student wing of the radical Islamic Popular Front of India. These particular students were then counselled not to join ABVP-organised protests, and advised to join the CFI instead. Today some of these same students are at the forefront of this agitation.
In November 2021, a small group of Muslim students began alleging discrimination. The issue of wearing a hijab was also raised at this time. To address these concerns, the college development committee (CDC) met with the students and their parents in December and made attempts to amicably resolve the issue: 6 of 12 students relented. However, the remaining six remained adamant and were refused entry into the classroom in late December when they came wearing hijabs. Subsequently a petition was filed in the Karnataka HC on behalf of these students. The CFI and the agitating students openly admit to be in collusion. The groundwork was also prepared by the creation of four Twitter handles in October-November 2021 that have been actively posting updates on the issue along with other CFI contents. The parents of three of the protesting girls are active members of the SDPI, the political wing of the PFI.
The timeline of the above noted events and the active involvement of the CFI in this matter point to the possibility of this being a manufactured controversy with an all too well known modus operandi. First provoke, and when the other side responds, allege victimhood. Over the last couple of years, there has been a tendency to blow up issues, some genuine and some not, out of proportion by exploiting fault lines to stoke discontent in specific groups like students, religious minorities and farmers—all with the intent of creating chaos and confusion that would rock the stability of the nation and put the government on the defensive.
The hijab controversy has all the trappings of the same previous “create anarchy” projects. Visuals on social media like the one depicting a lone Muslim girl confronting a swarm of saffron clad male students chanting “Jai Shri Ram” are meant to evoke sympathy by playing up the gender card. Reports are now emerging that the video was allegedly doctored, and that the Muslim girl allegedly actually taunted the male students, provoking a response that could be filmed. The organisation of solidarity marches across the country supported by a section of the clergy (in Ludhiana, imams of 80 mosques organised a hijab march on 12 January) may be presented as further evidence of a planned effort to disrupt normalcy in the country. The Karnataka government did well to close down educational institutions and ban protests in their vicinity, so as to prevent anti-social elements from exploiting the situation.
No community should seek to forcefully stamp its dominance on the narrative of a nation.
Opposition to the Vande Mataram by a section of the Muslim community led to it being shelved as the national anthem, despite the song being the unanimous choice of almost all Indians. Loudspeakers blaring out calls for prayer, and occupying public places to offer prayers with little regard for public convenience are so commonplace that we take it as normal, when in a secular country, no faith can claim precedence over the rest.
One needs to be careful in extending support to a cause whose motives are suspect and one which perpetuates patriarchy. For once noted columnist Tavleen Singh appeared to be on the right side of the divide. She summed up the protest with remarkable clarity of thought: “The protest is no longer about Muslim girls being denied access to education but Muslim girls becoming unwitting pawns of political forces whose ideology and ideas are the opposite of the ideas that define India in our Constitution.”
The issue is sub-judice. Like any civilised people, we need to wait patiently for the verdict of the High Court. Agreed, protest is an inherent right in a democracy. But to resort to protest at the drop of every pin makes a mockery of this democratic principle, and risks turning India into a mobocracy rather than a democracy. That cannot be allowed to happen.