By- Europa Doley

In recent developments on the Hijab Ban, the Karnataka government has restrained students of all schools and colleges under the state Minority Welfare Department from wearing hijab, scarf, saffron shawls, and religious flags to classrooms, saying it will abide by the High Court’s interim order on the hijab issue. Minority Welfare, Hajj and Wakf Department Secretary P Manivannan said in a circular issued on Wednesday that the Karnataka High Court has in its interim order restrained students from wearing saffron shawls, scarves, hijab, religious flags in the classroom until further orders.

Constitutional secularism could be defined using two features, the first being critical respect for all religions. However, given the practical impossibility of separating religion from society’s construct, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar famously noted that not every aspect of religious doctrine or practice can be respected. Respect for religion must be accompanied by critique. It follows that our state must respectfully keep its distance from religion but also intervene whenever religious groups promote communal disharmony and discrimination on grounds of religion (an inter-religious matter) or are unable to protect their own members from the oppressions they perpetuate (an intra-religious issue). This is its second feature, the Indian state abandons strict separation but keeps a principled distance from all religions. This constitutional secularism cannot be sustained by governments alone but requires collective commitment from an impartial judiciary, scrupulous media, civil society activists, and an alert citizenry.

A dispute erupted in Udupi, Karnataka when Muslim students wearing hijab in a junior college were denied entry to classes in early January. Over the following weeks, the sentiments spread to several other schools and colleges across the state. The Karnataka government soon issued an order stating that uniforms must be worn compulsorily where policies exist and no exception can be made for the wearing of the hijab. Several schools cited this order and denied entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab. Following this, petitions with regard to this issue were filed in the Karnataka High Court. Even before hearing the case, the High Court issued an interim order restraining all students from wearing any form of religious attire. When the schools reopened on 14 February, the High Court order was implemented in all schools and colleges of Karnataka, asking the students to remove hijabs at the school gates.

In a purely secular country, a hijab controversy would have never surfaced. It would have been settled by a simple diktat that Muslim girls can wear hijabs in private spaces but not in public spaces. But it is not such a simple matter in India. 

This is a problem that has to do with the ‘Idea of India.’ Many so-called secular observers say that this is not their idea of India. It is fine that the pitch of the confrontation, the amount of hatred and hooliganism have rattled many of us, but one could argue that the idea of majoritarianism is actually ingrained in the Indian idea of secularism. The Hijab controversy is only one of many offshoots of that inherent contradiction between the Indian State and the Indian model of secularism. India has never been a secular state in the classical sense. The Indian idea of secularism will not pass the test of any of the dictionary definitions. The only qualifiers to this freedom are public order, morality and health.

Some may argue for and against such practices and may like to rationalize it as culture, but no one can deny that the Indian State and its practices are blatantly and overtly Hindunised. Hinduism might not be the State religion in India, but its hegemony in public affairs is quite evident. Segregation and discrimination are fundamental in the roots and beyond, and the government allows it. Students have been divided. To counter one group of students, another group is coming with saffron shawls, saffron turbans. A woman student in her religious attire is being intimidated by an entire group of saffron-clad boys. The harassment is out in public and the government machinery fails. 

The entire atmosphere of freedom is being taken over. They say one culture, one community, one religion, time and again, talking about their supremacy. It is a collective responsibility of all of us to calm this fire of hate, division and identity.
Author’s bio – Europa is an art enthusiast, an occasional reader and a musicophile. She’s doing her Master’s in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and her interest revolves around the issues faced by marginalized communities. Currently, she is interning at