Wearing religious symbols is fundamentally against the concept of uniformity in educational institutions as well as against modern values.
After some colleges in the Udupi district in Karnataka banned hijab in college premises citing the uniform code, it has once again triggered social as well as political debates on whether wearing religious symbol should be allowed inside educational institutions. Also whether wearing religious symbols is protected under Article 25 of Indian Constitution? While these points are being extensively discussed in the media, one point which we are missing here is, what about the concept of uniform in educational institutions? Are we willing to compromise with the concept of uniformity inside an educational institution with the cultural phenomenon of a certain group?
Concept of Uniform in Educational Institutions
While there is no recorded history about when the concept of uniforms was introduced in society, it is believed to have been introduced in the 16th Century in Britain. The benefits of uniforms in schools and colleges have been extensively studied and found to be positively effective toward behavioural problems. The case study of the Long Beach Unified School District in the US shows that suspensions and expulsions were reduced by 28 per cent (elementary) and 36 per cent (middle school), crime and vandalism by 74 per cent (elementary) and 18 per cent (middle school), sex offences by 74 per cent. Uniforms also bring about positive changes in attendance and enhance the learning environment.
Uniform Creates A Level Play Field
While there can always be a debate on the effects on uniform in school, it is not a rocket science to understand that uniform plays a vital role in mitigating the gap between individual’s social and economic status and gives a level playing field to everyone. It has the ultimate aim of suppressing individuality among students.
Different faiths have different cultures that inspire clothing. Some religions even dictate (or assume to be dictated) dress code. But to force religious dress code in educational institutions is like being dictated by religion.
Educational institutions are not religious places. These are the places where students of different religious groups, ethnicity come together to study, not to be segregated by their own religious dress code. If it is insisted that hijab should be allowed, as it is mandatory in Islam, then what about when other religious group demand the same? What if a person, belonging to Buddhism, insists on wearing saffron cloth and walks into the classroom barefoot? Or a religious group demands a completely different setup within the campus? The whole matter of wearing hijab shouldn’t be seen as an isolated incident. We must also consider the outcomes when other religious groups start demanding its dress code to put above the uniforms of schools and colleges.
The most important question arises here is, whether wearing religious symbols inside educational institutions is protected under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution? Whether right to profess one’s religion also include places like schools and colleges?
While there are different views of Indian courts on this, one question always comes in picture, whether wearing Hijab in mandatory in Islam or it is just a political Islamic outcome?
Like any other issue, there are differences among Islamic scholars on this too.
Educational institutions shouldn’t be dragged into the debate of religion; rather they should be focused on creating an environment which diminishes the gap among students. Visible religious symbols do exactly opposite; it creates groups inside campuses which shouldn’t be promoted
Holy Quran doesn’t explicitly talk about hijab or burqa; it does talk about wearing clothes that are modest. The word “hijab” itself doesn’t mean headscarf; it means “curtain or partition”. The most common acceptable principle about hijab is, “While the hijab in indeed a women’s obligation in Islam, it is not a pillar of Islam”. One of the five core tenets of the Islam are faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca. Many Muslim women don’t cover their face or head, are they less Muslims? When wearing hijab is not the core of Islam, then why should it be protected under Article 25 of Indian Constitution?
For a moment, let us assume wearing hijab or burqa in an integral part of Islam, then should educational institution also permit the same in their campuses?
Article 25 does guarantee individual’s right to profess one’s religion but this Article also comes with reasonable restrictions. Let see what exactly Article 25 of Indian Constitution says.
Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.
(2) Nothing in this Article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law.
(a) Regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.
As it is clear that Article 25 doesn’t provide arbitrary right to profess one’s religion, and it comes with restrictions that give State power to restrict freedom of religion subject to certain conditions. Restriction on wearing religious symbols does fall into the category of these restrictions. Moreover, educational institutions shouldn’t be dragged into the debate of religion; rather they should be focused on creating an environment which diminishes the gap among students. Visible religious symbols do exactly the opposite; it creates groups inside campuses which shouldn’t be promoted.
Regressive Practises Support Fundamentalists
Patriarchal society is always mindful to make women understand that its codes and conduct for women is good for them. Veiling of women is one of the patriarchal products. We have seen numerous propaganda videos about how veiling a woman's body is meant to safeguard her modesty; they also insist that because they regard women as more precious they should cover themselves.
These are nothing but justification of a regressive practice that men have envisaged for women. Patriarchal society has always been able to gather a large group of women who support its idea of society.
Be it Sati practise or Devadasi system, there were always a group of women, who were in support of these practises. Just because a woman believes that something proposed by patriarchal society is good for her or terms it as her right; it doesn’t close scope for further debate. Wearing a hijab or burqa or any other veiling clothes is not a personal choice as it seems. It comes with lots of mind brushing, moral policing and from lenses of religious scrutiny. A lot of women don’t have choices in matters of burqa or hijab. When we defend the right to wear hijab or burqa, we also must keep in mind that when the world is heading toward a society where men and women are equal, any support of regressive practises would be counted as support of fundamentalists of religion.
Modernity demands us to stop issuing dictates to women to cover their body. Diversity shouldn’t be an excuse to appear different everywhere.
As usual, a part of Indian intellectuals criticised Government to single out Muslims and cites diversity as an excuse to defend the demand of permitting wearing hijab in colleges. Yes, India is a diverse country; it does have different culture, food and attire. But that doesn’t mean one should flaunt his/her diversity everywhere.
There are some places which require uniformity not diversity, and educational institutions are one of these places. Not only educational institutions, there are other places which also require uniformity. Can we imagine a lawyer practising in Supreme Court or high courts wearing hijab or burqa or other religious attire?
Government or private educational institutions have the right to ask for a uniform dress code for all their students, irrespective of their religion, and there is nothing wrong in it. Students must follow the specific dress code, which is neutral to all students. There shouldn’t be any ifs and buts on this. After all, we are not a country which runs on religious lines; India runs on rules and regulations that might be in contrast with one’s religious beliefs. When religious beliefs clash with country’s law; law must supersede religion. As a secular nation our aim should be to promote scientific temper, not the religious ones.