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By TIO Bureau Chief, Vijaylakshmi Nadar. Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: About 300 women, all highly educated and successful professionals, accompanied by the young school and college girls, clad in hijabs and burqas, came together to express solidarity with thousands of school and college girls in Karnataka, fighting against the government, to defend their right to dress the way they want to in their educational institutions.
Also watch: https://youtu.be/nQcDpJg16FY
They expressed horror at the humiliation and the dehumanizing experiences faced by these little girls and their school teachers who have been forbidden to wear the hijab on the campuses by the courts, till further orders. The protest site at the Dealey Plaza, Dallas, has its own historical significance, as the location where former President J F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
The alarming increase in instances of Islamophobia in India, with a phenomenal increase in hate speech and violence against the minority,
by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led to the formation of the Alliance to Stop Genocide in India (ASGI) in the US. ASGI is a coalition of several civil rights and Human Rights groups, which has facilitated these protests in major cities in the US including New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Cambridge, Seattle besides Dallas so far. They plan to keep the momentum in other cities as well, including outside the Indian Consulate in New York today (February 21), till the Indian government restores the rights of the girls to wear the hijabs and enter the campus without fear or discrimination.
The protesting women and young girls remembered 19-year-old Muskaan Khan, who valiantly fought back a bunch of hoodlums clad in saffron, heckling her and preventing her from entering the campus, with her hijab. The color saffron, which has a religious significance for Hindus, has now been expropriated by the Hindu nationalists in the country and has become a symbol of saffron terror, propagated by the BJP ruled the state and central government.
The ongoing hijab controversy in Karnataka is the latest in a long list of the Modi government’s attempts at polarizing before key elections in the country. Though the issue which has been deliberately kept on the burn for a couple of weeks now, by the ruling party and the national media might be allowed to die a natural death, after elections, on March 10, the scars of these dehumanizing experiences will linger on for a long time. The fact that the lives of young school children and their teachers have been put at risk from lumpen elements, turning educational institutions into political playgrounds, just for political gain, is sending shock waves throughout the world.
The protesting women reiterated that wearing the hijabs is their choice, not forced on them by their family or society. They reiterated how the hijab is a part of their identity, not a sign of oppression, and which is not an impediment to achieving anything that they want to.
Zehra Kamal, an IT professional, reiterated how growing up her parents never forced her to cover up. But as she started becoming aware of the importance of covering her head, by reading the religious texts, she embraced the hijab, which is now part of her identity at her workplace as well.
Yet another protestor Zeba Syed, who has just returned from Mandya in Karnataka, also the hometown of Muskaan, expressed shock and pain that her peaceful city has suddenly become a hotbed of the hijab controversy which is making international headlines.
Ayesha Khan, a young schoolgirl, voiced how the piece of cloth just covers her head, not her brain. That it is her right to wear the hijab and wants the same right for her `sisters’ in India.
Misbah and Asma Qadeer, born in the US t
o immigrant parents, took to rap to express their angst and support for their sisters in Karnataka, fighting a valiant battle to merely uphold their dignity, while an insecure Modi government dismisses the protests as an international conspiracy against his government.
Young school and college girls also took to the mike to announce that except Allah, nobody has the right to tell them what to wear. That it is their choice, their dignity, and what they are comfortable in.
The minority community in the US, as in India, has been watching with dread how the community is being singled out for hate
and communal violence, as and when the ruling party is looking for a quick political gain, unmindful of the possibility of a civil war.
They had also protested in large numbers against the Indian government’s decision to impose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2020, which threatened to deprive millions of Muslims living in India, their citizenship rights.
Communal tensions are deliberately being triggered by the administration, with even the courts, which is the last refuge of the common man, surrendering its might to the government. The court instead of maintaining the status quo till disposal of matters issued interim orders to restrict religious symbols in educational campuses until further orders. This interim order was used as an excuse by the authorities, including police personnel, to get the schoolgirls and their teachers to strip off their hijabs and burqa outside the campus in full view of the public and the media gathered there. Scenes of young schoolgirls, being chased by media personnel, to capture their embarrassment, are catching the world’s attention.
The hijab controversy started in a school in Udupi a few days ago, when the girls were asked to remove their hijabs, inside the campus. The girls refused to do so, preferring to sit outside the campus gates to protest. An issue that could have been easily sorted out between the staff and the students, took on a communal tone instead. When some students from the majority community were handed over saffron turbans and stoles, by “outsiders”, to wear on campus, to register their own protests.
Every time, there is a crucial election in the country, these groups are put to task to escalate communal tensions. The situation is especially sensitive in BJP ruled states in the North, which is now creeping in the South, especially Karnataka.
The entire state machinery focused on embarrassing and unnerving the young girls in the middle of exams, not even considering their request for online classes on an urgent basis, till the courts conclude the hearing, is causing immense grief in the Indian diaspora. Many of them have fond memories of growing up in India, having worn the burqa in school and college, without ever being disturbed.
Compiled and Curated by Humra Kidwai.