Young women wearing religious headscarves tearfully pleading to be allowed entry into schools and colleges with many vowing not to remove their hijabs has raised concerns on the impact this will have on their education.
While the case is in the High Court of Karnataka, several writers and activists from the Muslim community and education experts have expressed fear that the standoff may likely hit the recent progress made on the front of educating Muslim girls. Many students have vowed not to enter classrooms without their hijabs.
Senior political scientist Muzaffar Assadi said the hijab controversy had become a site of contest between religion and education, community and the system. “Muslim girls are increasingly opting for higher education. But with these developments, there may be a setback with girls withdrawing from secular modern education,” he said.
Development educationist Niranjanaradhya V.P. feared that the “uncalled for” hijab row threatens to undo whatever little progress has been made on the front since the Sachar Committee Report of 2006, brought out the alarming state of education of Muslims in general and girls in particular. “The ongoing hijab issue created by communal forces creates a kind of fear, anxiety and insecurity for Muslim girl children by deeply affecting their psychosocial status in a disturbed social environment. It leads to the discontinuation of education on the one side and mental depression and deprivation of enabling social peer groups on the other side making their life more miserable and vulnerable. Parents may also put pressure on these girls to discontinue their education,” he said.
Sharada Gopal of Jagruta Mahila Okkoota recounted how Akka Mahadevi Women’s University had a higher enrollment rate of Muslim girls even in postgraduate courses, precisely because it is a women’s university. “For some educated liberal women, wearing the hijab may be a matter of choice, but to others it is imposed by their traditional families who may not send them to schools and colleges if the government forces them to remove hijab,” she feared.
There have been several voices from within the Muslim community trying to strive for primacy to education than cultural practices. “I am not against the hijab, but education must take precedence for the community. After all, the first revelation of the Holy Quran says “Iqra” which means “read”. The community is forced to navigate a very tricky terrain where the community is being targeted, but the community should not get into further ghettoisation but instead give primacy to education,” Prof. Assadi said.
Senior writer Banu Mushtaq who condemned the hijab row as the handiwork of “fundamentalist forces on either side that have been using Muslim girls as pawns”, however said she was confident that though the issue may hit Muslim girl education temporarily, they would bounce back and continue their education. “The social movement of the community today is largely towards education, especially among girls as they have realised it is only through education that they can become independent. They may be forced to withdraw from government run institutions banning hijab, which is sad. But I am confident that they will continue their education in minority institutions, through online courses or distance education,” she said.