The hijab refers to head coverings worn by Muslim women to conceal their hair whilst leaving the face visible. The hijab is much more than a fashion choice or act of defiance against school uniforms. It is important to many female Muslims as a way of maintaining Islamic rules of modesty for women and guarding their privacy whilst protecting them from the abuse and the harassment of the male gaze. The hijab has also become a symbol of national and ethnic identity opposing colonisers who’ve attempted to enforce the removal of the veil. Some critics argue that the Muslim veiling tradition is repressive to women; however, many believe the veil symbolizes piety, devotion, religious identity, and self-expression.
“I wear this scarf because when I was a child I was socialized to be embarrassed, even ashamed, of my religion and my culture. I was told that to be a Muslim was to be a terrorist … I understood that I would be unwelcome as long as I wore symbols of my heritage and chose to, in a modern way, embrace my ancestors.”- Columbia College Student Toqa Badran.
Despite a growing understanding of the importance of the hijab in the Western world, anti-Muslim sentiments are rising in India. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accusations have been made stating that Hindu Nationalism and violence against Muslims are increasing in India. In Haryana state, the BJP backed Hindu vigilantes have demanded that Muslim prayers in public spaces be stopped, harassed Muslims without consequence, and displayed photographs of Muslim women on apps saying they are for sale, putting them at risk of sexual abuse. This degrading treatment of Muslims contradicts the Prime Minister’s aims of making society inclusive and safe and only provokes further aggression towards Muslim minorities across the country.
12% of the Indian population are Muslim, the hijab ban is seen by many as marginalizing Muslims, exposing them to higher levels of violence and systematic discrimination.
The past month has also brought several government-run educational institutions in the southern state of Karnataka banning Muslim students from wearing the hijab. The BJP backed the ban by stating that “clothes which disturb equality, integrity, and public law and order should not be worn.” PM Modi claims these policies benefit all Indians and prevent the classroom environment from becoming “Taliban-like”; however, where 12% of the Indian population are Muslim, the hijab ban is seen by many as marginalizing Muslims, exposing them to higher levels of violence and systematic discrimination.
“By letting students’ hijab come in the way of their education, we are robbing the future of the daughters of India,” he said. “Prohibiting hijab-wearing students from entering school is a violation of fundamental rights.” – Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposing Indian National Congress party, quoted by The Guardian.
The hijab ban violates the international human rights law, designed to protect the rights of anyone to freely manifest their religious beliefs, possess freedom of expression, and the right to education without discrimination. “It is our religious compulsion and a constitutional right; we are not going to surrender,” said Saniya Parveen, a Muslim student who refused to accept the state ban.
Protests began in the city of Udupi in January as a response to Muslim students in a women’s college being barred entry to their classrooms. If the female students didn’t comply with removing their hijabs then the gates of the school were locked and police officers would be called to prevent them from entering. Similar policies have now been implemented in many schools and colleges in southern India. Despite the objections of family and friends, BJP officials claim that the ban on hijabs does not violate their constitutional rights.
Demonstrators have gathered outside multiple schools where Muslim protestors have clashed with Hindu counter-protesters wearing saffron-coloured scarves associated with Hindu nationalism. Muslim students have been heckled and viral videos have emerged of a mob of Hindu youth heckling female Muslim students for wearing hijabs. The protests have spread across the nation including New Delhi, Kolkata, and Jaipur. The Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has ordered all high schools and colleges in the state to close for several days in an effort to ease tensions and “maintain peace and harmony”. Schools have now reopened yet with no solution.
The Modest Fashion Weeks have a reach of over two billion media coverages across five contents, with this exposure, fashion has become a powerful platform to challenge discrimination and celebrate different cultures and beliefs.
Efforts have been introduced in Western society to educate non-Muslims about the significance of the hijab and promote attitudes of respect towards people of diverse religious beliefs. Nazma Khan’s vision for a more tolerant world has birthed World Hijab Day, held on 1st February, in recognition of millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty. Non-Muslim women are invited to wear the hijab for a day to encourage religious tolerance and understanding of the veiling practice.
The “Modesty Fashion” movement has also gained traction aiming to celebrate the hijab in fashion. Key players are leading the movement, such as the Youtuber Dina Torkia, designer Habiba Da Silva with her muted hijab collections, and the first hijabi model Mariah Idrissi who has featured in many H&M campaigns. Modest Fashion Weeks, founded by Ozlem Sahin and Franka Soeria, are held in London, Jakarta, Istanbul, and Dubai aiming to dispel Islamophobia and build supportive communities for Muslim women through vibrant hijabi fashion. The Modest Fashion Weeks have a reach of over two billion media coverages across five contents, with this exposure, fashion has become a powerful platform to challenge discrimination and celebrate different cultures and beliefs. Nevertheless, is this enough to prevent further violence towards Muslim communities?
Don’t fashion designers and fashion education have a responsibility to understand and respect the political and cultural history behind garments to help educate others and promote inclusivity and cultural tolerance in society?
Classrooms should not be a place of aggression and discrimination. The ban on the hijab in Southern India infringes on human rights, disrupts freedom of speech, and is degrading to the Muslim community that makes up part of India’s population. This case of systematic discrimination is only one example of aggression towards Muslims that still continues worldwide. Progressive movements in the fashion industry are helping to dispel discrimination and put out the fires of Islamophobia worldwide but more needs to be done. Doesn’t fashion education have a responsibility to help educate its students and promote inclusivity and cultural tolerance in society?