By Afsana Siddiqui
India has the largest ever adolescent and youth population. According to UNFPA projections, “India will continue to have one of the youngest populations in the world till 2030. India’s youth face several development challenges, including access to education, gainful employment, gender inequality, child marriage, youth-friendly health services and adolescent pregnancy. Yet, with investments in their participation and leadership, young people can transform the social and economic fortunes of the country” (UNFPA, 2022). However, they are wasting their time in choosing the girls’ clothes, which they have no right of, thereby creating problems for the girls.
For humans, sartorial preference is not just a piece of clothing; it is also their dignity, identity and honor which reflects their culture. ‘Hijab’ is also a term that can relate to women’s seclusion in various Islamic societies, or it can refer to a metaphysical dimension that is commonly employed to preserve modesty standards (Glasse 2001). Muslim women interpret the hijab in a variety of ways, associating it with a variety of meanings ranging from head covering to modest behaviour. Every woman’s decision to wear a hijab is her own. They wear hijab or other forms of head covering for a number of reasons. Some believe it was given to women by Allah (God) as a means of obeying his commandment of modesty. It demonstrates a person’s genuine devotion to God. Wearing a hijab is a way of displaying one’s Muslim identity in a visible way (Haddad, et al, 2006).
In India, most girls cover their heads and face during the months of March-August to avoid sunburn. No one raises their voice against this. However, when girls from a particular community cover their faces, because of their religious belief, some people make it an issue on the pretext of disturbing the college atmosphere and make it against the choices and rights of women. Girls are capable of deciding what they want to wear. Many Muslim girls wear hijab once they start attending school. But nobody raises any objections against this. Various reports show that education among Muslim women has been increasing day by day. However, the recent demand to ban hijab in educational institutions has come as a shock to the people.
The expression of different identities through dress is associated with creativity and is regarded as integral to the aesthetics of dynamic societies. According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 19: “Wearing clothes – or more accurately, choosing which clothes to wear – is, for many people, an important part of the expression” (Chirwa, 2018). By Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), “alongside other basic necessities like food and housing, clothing is a fundamental human right. By law, the right to clothes is a key aspect of our right to an adequate standard of living…” (Langlois, 2005). Article 15 of the Constitution of India “forbids discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Clause (1) prohibits discrimination against citizens on protected grounds” (Jain, 2000). Article 21 of Constitution of India states: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” Thus, article 21 secures two rights: The right to life and right to personal liberty (Nath, 2013).
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and the freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs under the Indian constitution and international human rights law. People’s clothing choices can reveal a lot about their religious, cultural, or personal identities and views. In general, the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression imply that everyone should be allowed to wear what they want.
If one wears a saree, one is sanskaari; if one uses a turban, one showcases one’s pride; if one wears a lungi, it is one’s tradition; if one wears a western dress, one is modern. If everyone has the right to wear what they want and what they are comfortable in, why the bias against hijab?
Certainly, I don’t want to rant about other religions or degrade them, but as a woman, I must ask: who are you to tell us what we should wear and what we shouldn’t? It is like erecting yet another wall in the lives of women, and denying a community their right to religious practices. While the Indian constitution and international human rights law allow women to follow their religion, culture and customs, it should only be their choice to choose which clothes they want their body to be covered with. Whether they wear a saree, a turban, a lungi, a short dress or a hijab, no person has the right to prohibit them or force them into something they do not want.
Women have attained equal rights to education through a lot of struggle. However, controversies like this may set us back to a time where education was an impossibility for a lot of Muslim women who couldn’t go to school/college without a hijab. The so-called well-wishers of society may become an obstruction to many women in their quest for education. As responsible citizens of the nation, it is our responsibility to guide the youth about what is right and what is wrong. It is only possible when they know the difference between right and wrong. This can be done with the right education and guidance.
Dr. Afsana Siddiqui, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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