February 13, 2022

Right to Education can’t be compromised in the name of Religion


THE image of the young girls, clad in Hijab standing outside the school gate, demanding and at times even begging to enter inside their own school is a metaphor for how the Indian State under Modi is treating people whom they consider as “other”, an absolute denial of fundamental rights.

The democracy that just completed 75 years of its glory started off with hopes and dreams of a secular modern republic. This country rejected religious citizenship in the year 1947 prioritising its long history of multiculturalism and constitutional equality, but in 2019 that same parliament could come up with a citizenship act that clearly put citizenry and faith as mutually exclusive components. This going backwards in time, undoing and redoing the cultural mosaic, is an integral part of the ethnonationalism that the BJP RSS pledged to promote. A nation built on exclusivity and supremacy of the assumed “majority”.

The idea of a Hindu nation is founded on two major principles, the first being the homogenisation of the Hindu community, which was indeed difficult due to the rigid caste system and the century-long oppression of the working classes by the privileged caste groups. Thus, to unify the caste society, the construction of an external enemy became necessary, and here comes the second feature of Hindu Rashtra, a “vilified other”. From the beginning the RSS had these two as their primary focus; on the one hand, there was an effort of finding a universal Hindu icon that can connect the diverse deities, rituals and practices; this got concretised with the Ramjanmabhumi movement and the subsequent temple in Ayodhya.

 On other hand a persistent effort was there of painting Muslims, Christians as invaders, as criminals through the cultural representation and later on by rewriting history. From 2014 onwards the naked State patronage of such discriminatory ideology and institutionalising hatemongering helped in strengthening these narratives. The unpunished killing in the name of cow vigilantism, love jihad and the proposed NRC-CAA was an open declaration that the Indian State as an institution is here to let go of the basic premises of secularism.

The recent incident of Karnataka where Muslim girls are denied entry into school should be seen in this context, not as an isolated disruptive event. This southern state had been a Hindutva laboratory for quite some time now, particularly the coastal Dakhin Kanada. Multiple outfits of RSS, including Shri Ram Sena, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagarana Vedike started operating here post-Babri demolition. And since then, a number of communal riots broke here, which turned extremely violent. The Hijab ban in Udupi’s school came after the ABVP led students started wearing saffron scarves in “protest” of women wearing hijab. Let us not forget this is happening just a few days after the atrocious Bulli Bai app that auctioned Muslim women, came into public view. The people behind those apps were young educated Hindu men and women, a similar population that we see protesting here. Where in the case of Bulli Bai the Maharashtra police was quick to nab the accused, the BJP led Karnataka government went on backing this unconstitutional demand.

The idea of keeping educational institutions away from the religious garb sounds progressive on the surface. But the question who are the people making such demands? BJP led government has saffronised education in multiple layers. From passing mythology as history to deploying BJP stooges in every constitutional body. Even the tableau by the department of education in the Republic Day parade reproduced the imagery of guru-sishya parampara, where teachers were pictured as janeu sporting Brahmin men. If this won’t be considered problematic then why young girls wearing their faith is a problem? In large parts of the country, Saraswati puja in schools and colleges had become almost like a custom. Engineering colleges worshipping Vishwakarma inside the campus premises had never raised an eyebrow, then why suddenly this urge of “secularising” education?

Whether burqa, parda should be hailed as pride or not, is a different question altogether. But they cannot be judged without placing it in its complex spatiality. The Muslims are persecuted minority, they are overrepresented in the prisons and underrepresented in the position of power. From 2014 the targeted hate crimes against Muslims got multiplied. Along with usual vilification and discrimination, the attack on Muslim visibility must be noted down. Hindu radical groups stopping open Namaz in Haryana, doing Govardhan puja in that same place is not a routine activity but an effort to invisibilise Muslims from the public space. The women who were sold in Sulli deals or Bulli Bai apps are not random people but Muslim women who were able to capture the public imagination. From Ismat Ara a journalist who was vocal against this government to Sameya a radio jockey who didn’t mind voicing her political opinion in public, they all represented the aspirations of their community, to be acknowledged, to be heard. The condition that one must remove her scarf to enter a public sphere (here a classroom), actually reproduces the same logic of invisbilising the minority.

One must also delve to understand, how this regime has used the women body to advance its ideology. Godhra saw the indiscriminate rape and killing of Muslim women as a lesson to her community, the Muzaffarnagar riot was no different. the recently passed anti-love jihad law in Uttar Pradesh had seen 14 cases, 49 arrests within just one month. Interestingly, among them only in two cases, the woman herself complained of forceful conversion, in all the other cases it is either the relatives or the Hindu vigilante groups who brought the matter up. There had been cases where even after mutual consent of marriage, without any mention of conversion, Muslim men are victimised. The denial of women agency is an inherent feature of patriarchy, their infantilisation is also not specific to Hindutva. But here the State has weaponised feudal institutions to have absolute control over the woman body, which can be either used as a site of violence or an excuse to witch-hunt the “other”.  

Muslim students constitute only 5 per cent of total students enrolled in higher education according to all India survey on higher education 2017-18, among them 49 per cent are girls. The recent data published in the parliament shows Maulana Azad National Fellowship for minority students have reduced from Rs 4,141 to a mere Rs 2,348 in the last four years. The post-doctoral fellowship for women too saw a drastic drop from 642 to 434. The government has not allocated funds in the last budget for the national scheme for incentives to girl child for secondary education (NSIGSE), whereas 80 per cent fund allocated for beti bachao beti padhao is used for media campaigning. The discontinuation of MPhil, while implementing NEP will also adversely affect the girls., currently on and about 60 per cent of students enrolled in this course, are girls who might not enjoy the luxury of a prolonged period of research.

With the increasing expense of education, closure of public-funded schools, rampant privatisation, expanding digital divide and surge in drop out due to pandemic, the condition of girls coming from the margin has become way too difficult to survive. In a crucial situation like that denying education to girls, questioning their religious beliefs is not only inhuman but also criminal. It increases the risk of girls falling out of the education system and disturbs communal harmony to a great extent. The conspiracy of stopping women education is not new, the resistance against such efforts too is old enough. The legacy of Savitri Bai Phule, Fathima Shaikh, Begam Rokeya, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar had fought and ensured the right to education for women, this cannot be snatched away so easily.  Recently in Delhi University, the administration decided to build a cow shelter instead of a girl’s hostel, since they know, cows can fetch them vote but girls with books, will break all the pinjras