February 7, 2022

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we look at whether student uniforms in educational institutions should accommodate religious symbols. We also look at how prisons in Maharashtra are getting on the e-commerce party, among other news.


đź“° FEATURE STORY

Karnataka’s Hijab Row

Uniforms, you either love them or absolutely cannot stand those restrictive things. Dress codes, in general, seem rather silly till you take dire situations into consideration. While army and firemen actually need their uniforms for practicality and protection, for student bodies, on the other hand, it is more about inducing discipline into growing minds.

Karnataka, right now, is witnessing serious protests and counter-protests. Why? Well, because of uniforms. While some protest for the right of students to freely express their religious beliefs, others seem to be misappropriating a religious minority’s cause. Whatever be the case, the question still remains: where do you draw the line, really?

Context

Since 27 December 2021, eight students of a state-run pre-university college in the Udupi district of Karnataka have been barred from attending their classes. The reasoning offered by the college authorities was that the students came in wearing hijabs, or headscarves, that are serious uniform violations.

According to the protesting students, after learning that there was no college rule banning hijabs on-premises, they started wearing them in December 2021. In fact, the students and their parents claim to have met up with the college authorities about the same, but they never seemed to get a response. The students also say that their seniors wore hijabs to class, something they have photographic proof of.

The story soon took off on social media, which brought several news media outlets to their doorstep to add some fire to the flame. The protests took off, while the college still claims that no student with a hijab has been allowed to attend classes since the institution’s inception.

Soon after, a protest took off in another college in Udupi, at the Bhandarkars’ Arts and Science Degree College. Again, for wearing hijabs – something the students claim was never a problem before. According to their college’s rules, a student is allowed to wear a scarf if it matches the colour of their uniform’s dupatta.

The situation escalated last Wednesday when around 100 boys showed up in saffron shawls to protest the protests against the banning of hijabs in the college. This got the government involved, and BJP MLA Srinivas Shetty even addressed the students and their parents about maintaining peace and following a uniform dress code.

As of now, the protests are still on. Videos of students wearing saffron scarves and chanting “Jai Sri Ram” on their way to college are doing their rounds online. And, the hijab-donned students are still not allowed in class. The students have even moved the High Court about this. The state government even issued a notice declaring uniforms as a must until the courts say otherwise.

A uniform needs to be uniform

This, by no means, is the first time a state-run institution has tried to ban burqas, niqabs, or hijabs, both nationally and internationally. As early as 2010, several European countries have banned these headdresses or have at least tried to do so. Recently, France banned hijabs in women’s sports for better integration by removing religious symbols from the arena. Similar reasons have been stated for the hijab ban we’re dealing with.

Considering rows over hijabs have been in the zeitgeist for a while, the courts have added to the conversation. In the past, rulings have pointed out that our courts put the rights of institutions over the rights of individuals. The right to wear an article of clothing happens to be an individual right. The institution has the right to deny anyone that goes against their set rules, which often involves dress codes.

In 2015, the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) prescribed a dress code that only allowed light clothes, half sleeves, small buttons, and slippers instead of shoes. This was done to ensure that candidates would not use unfair means during the exam. The Supreme Court, while responding to one of the petitioners, said “Your faith won’t disappear if you appear for the exam without a scarf.” But this was still just an oral observation.

While that rule was applied for a specific reason, the Fathima Tasneem v State of Kerala case called for a far similar set-up. A school managed by the Congregation of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate wouldn’t allow two of their students to wear full-sleeved shirts and a hijab to school. The students’ father insisted that they do as per their custom. The court ruled that the collective rights of an individual need to be paid attention to over an individual’s one.

Even the Karnataka government explained that as per the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, uniform codes need to be followed as directed by the institution’s authorities. According to them, the Act ensures that educational environments foster the “harmonious development of the mental and physical faculties of students and [cultivate] a scientific and secular outlook”. And, looking at the current political climate, it is necessary to follow that.

Nothing more than a lack of empathy

Most arguments for banning hijabs from educational institutions circle around the need to ensure a religion-free classroom. But, in practice, classrooms have never been free from religion. Morning prayers and religious assemblies have always been a part of schools to imbibe the spirit of giving thanks and respecting something larger than themselves. Even the students in Udupi have pointed out that their institutions fully celebrate Hindu festivals. So simply banning a religious symbol that the followers of Islam associate with is nothing more than hypocrisy.

Of course, as per our fundamental rights, Article 25(1) guarantees us the right to freely “profess, practice and propagate religion”. But just like the rest of these rights, it isn’t absolute. The state is allowed to regulate them for the greater good. The Supreme Court, however, did say that the Constitution does protect religious practices that are essential to one’s religion.

So, is wearing a hijab “essential” to Islam? The short answer is yes. The courts, after looking into religious texts and talking to experts, have determined that the wearing of headdresses like hijabs are essential to practising Muslims. In 2016, petitions against the AIPMT’s exam dress code were, once again, brought up before the Kerala High Court. After examining both, the Quran and the Hadith, Prophet Mohammad’s teachings, they found that covering the hair and body is a religious duty. Thus, wearing a hijab is essential to Islam.

Moving into public opinion for a bit, several voices in favour of the ban cite France as an example. In 2004, they banned all religious symbols in schools and in 2011, full-face veils were banned in public spaces. This stops Muslim women from wearing such headdresses. But here’s the thing, France is still not India. They follow a form of secularism that tries to remove religion from public life. India’s secularism rises from our “unity in diversity” drives.

Even the Kerala High Court, during the cases against the AIPMT’s dress code, said that India is too diverse a country to make a dress code the one thing that goes without exception. Our model of secularism comes from trying to respect all faiths and beliefs equally. While the current climate might be conducive to violence over such propositions, simply succumbing to threats against one community showcases the administration’s bias.

What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Uniforms in an educational institution must be free from religious symbols.

b) Uniforms in an educational institution must be open to accommodate essential religious symbols.


🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS

For the Right:

Dubious Record: A Progress Report on UP’s Law and Order Under the BJP Government

For the Left:

Rahul Gandhi’s speech hit the BJP where it doesn’t hurt


🏴 STATE OF THE STATES

State border trouble (Punjab) – Between 2019 and 2021, arms and ammunition seizures by the Border Security Force (BSF) have drastically increased. Data shows that in 2019 there were 7 cases of arms haul. The following year, it increased to 42, and in 2021 it was 58. Last month, border forces reported three such cases. Along the International border with Pakistan, the use of drones has made it easier to drop weapons and ammunition caches into Indian territory. The BSF said they are preparing technology-based countermeasures.

Why it matters: The state’s border with Pakistan is favoured by Pakistani militants to smuggle drugs, arms, and ammunition. Last month, the BSF recovered six packets of heroin weighing 6.3 kgs, one pistol, one magazine, and 50 rounds. In December, the BSF gunned down a Pakistani drone at the border outpost in Wan village. It crossed fencing up to 300 metres in the area. In 2020, security officials said Pakistani militants and the ISI use Chinese drones

Bifurcation impact on education (Andhra Pradesh) – The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into two separate states has been a boon for the state from an academic point of view. Many top educational institutions have decided to set up shop in the state. Many educational institutions were sanctioned for the state as part of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014. About â‚ą720 crores have been released for the construction of IIT Tirupati. Among the other premier institutions in the state are IIM-Visakhapatnam, which plans to conduct the next academic session from its permanent campus in Gambheeram.

Why it matters: Before the bifurcation, the state boasted the largest number of engineering colleges in the country, with 700. Once the state was bifurcated, there was anxiety about its impact on higher education. At the time, educationists said it will be minimal since Hyderabad will remain the common capital of Telangana and Andhra for ten years. If there was to be an effect, middle-class students won’t be affected as much as private education dominated undivided Andhra.

Celluloid encouragement (Chhattisgarh) – The state government announced a â‚ą1.65 crores subsidy on vernacular Chhattisgarhi films being made in the state. It also announced a 25% subsidy for Hindi or films in other languages being made in the state. Local artists welcomed the decision by the government on the notification of the Chhattisgarh Film Policy 2021. The hope is that this will attract directors and producers from the South and Bollywood as well. The policy also has provisions for those operating cinema halls – â‚ą15 lakh subsidy for single-screen cinemas and up to â‚ą50 lakhs for multiplexes.

Why it matters: The majority of viewers in the state are low-income people. According to Anuj Sharma, a star in Chhattisgarhi films, a low-budget film in the state costs â‚ą25 lakh to make, while a high-budget one can cost between â‚ą50-75 lakh. The number of films made in the state varies from 7 to 14. Several multiplexes in the state don’t prioritise local films. In September, the state decided to formulate a film policy to create a friendly investment climate to make the state a hub for making films.

Prison commerce (Maharashtra) – Products made by convicts in Maharashtra prisons will soon find their way to an online marketplace. They’ll first be made available for government departments, then later for the public. Currently, the products are only available at the prison premises. Some activists said that selling them online will help the prisoners earn throughout the year. The first step will be a Government e-Marketplace. Then they’ll partner with e-commerce companies. Some of the products made are furniture, leather goods, and garments.

Why it matters: Currently, skilled convicts earn â‚ą67 per task, and those in open prison colonies earn â‚ą85 per task. Last July, an outlet selling products made by Tihar inmates was inaugurated inside the office complex of the northeast District Magistrate. In 2019, the state government mooted the idea of selling products made by inmates on platforms like Amazon and Flipkart. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the value of goods made by inmates was worth â‚ą201.8 crores in 2015.

Militant outfit using social media (Meghalaya) – The Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) is using social media to recruit new members. The designated militant group is hoping that social media platforms can be a tool to lure youngsters. It comes in the wake of the arrest of an underage cadre of the HNLC by the state police for his alleged involvement in the bomb blast at Shillong’s Police Bazaar on January 31. The IED blast didn’t injure or kill anyone.

Why it matters: Officials say militancy in the state has been declining over the past five years. However, since July 2021, the HNLC has been responsible for three low-intensity blasts in the state. The group has been demanding a sovereign Khasi homeland in Meghalaya. It’s a breakaway faction of the first tribal militant group in the state – the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), formed in the mid-1980s. The prevalence of social media has aided recruitment for militants. In 2018, the Assam police said social media has helped the outlawed ULFA outfit as well.


🔢 KEY NUMBER

₹1.17 lakh crores – The amount Airtel will spend through business transactions with its subsidiaries including Indus Towers, Nxtra and Bharti Hexacom. It comes in the wake of Google’s ₹7,000 crore investment in the company.