Tuesday 15 February 2022

‘Targeted harassment’: Muslim girls in India denounce hijab ban


For four days a group of 28 Muslim girls stood in protest in front of the Junior Pre-University college in the Karnataka state after they were denied entry for wearing hijab – an issue that has snowballed to other colleges in the southern state.

On Monday morning Farheen (name changed) and her friends were allowed to enter the premises of the college located in the coastal town of Kundapur in Udupi district, but they were in for a shock after college authorities did not allow them to sit in their respective classrooms with other students.

On the same day, the college officials posted a notice outside the gate declaring prohibition of hijab in classrooms as part of the college uniform code.

“Our teachers told us they will not allow our entry in classrooms or teach us without government orders”, Farheen, a commerce student, told Al Jazeera.

It left Farheen and her friends “hurt and humiliated”.

An official from the education department visited the girls while they were seated in a separate classroom. “Give up on your hijab. If you hold on to this, you will lose out on your education’, he told us,” Farheen recounted.

“How is it fair that other students are being taught and we are told to sit separately and self-study just for wearing a headscarf,” said Farheen’s friend, who also wanted to remain anonymous.

“We used to sit in class all these years with hijab. Now suddenly, they are treating us like criminals and keeping us in a separate classroom. We are hurt.”

The decision of the Kundapur college to segregate Muslim girls, however, has angered students and activists who called it a form of “religious apartheid” and “untouchability”, a reference to the banned practice of discrimination against members of lower castes in the Hindu socio-religious hierarchy.

The Campus Front of India (CFI), an organisation of Muslim students active in southern Indian states said in a statement on Sunday that a ban on hijab is “an organised nationwide conspiracy [that] is systematically executed by the right-wing Hindutva [Hindu-ness] groups to dehumanise Muslim women”.

Visuals of students being shut outside the gate by several colleges in the state have caused mounting outrage among the Muslim minority and triggered protests since last week, with rights groups alleging that the move violates the rights of Muslim students to practice their religion and access education.

The tensions escalated after students and activists allegedly backed by Hindu nationalist groups started to wear saffron colour scarves, calling for hijab ban in educational institutions in the state – where Muslims form 12 percent of the population.

On  Tuesday, students and Hindu right-wing activists were seen marching into campuses wearing scarves and turbansin many colleges across the state andin some cases, clashing with police.

A viral video showing a student in hijab being heckled by a group of Hindu men in Mandya district has caused an online outrage, with many hailing the girl for her bravery in standing up to the “mob”.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced a three-day closure of educational institutes across the state and appealed for calm.

“I appeal to all students, teachers and management of schools and colleges, as well as people of Karnataka, to maintain peace and harmony,” Bomai said in a tweet.

Last week, his government issued a directive that all educational institutions should follow dress codes set by management.

Siddaramaiah, former chief minister and main opposition leader in the state, blamed the government for “trying to create communal disharmony throughout the state in the name of hijab”.

The government was “denying education to Muslim girls”, he said.

On Wednesday, the state high court which is hearing a petition by the Muslim girls to allow the use of hijabs in educational institutions has referred the case to a bigger panel of judges.

The lawyers appearing for the girls on Tuesday argued before the court that the practice of hijab is protected under the right of freedom of religion guaranteed in the Indian constitution and that the state has no power to ban it.

Kaneez Fathima, a member of the state legislative assembly from the opposition Congress party, who led a demonstration in Kalburgi city in support of girls said that she wears a hijab and sees it as an essential part of a Muslim woman’s life.

“We have been wearing hijab for years without any problem but now, the issue has been suddenly taken up by the BJP and Hindutva groups to rake up communal tensions”, she told Al Jazeera, referring to the Hindu far-right groups.

The controversy over hijab first started a month back when a group of six Muslim students at a government-run women’s college in Udupi district was denied entry into their classrooms because the administration alleged they were defying the rules by wearing the hijab.

The girls, however, defiantly resisted the pressure even as they were made to sit outside the classrooms on stairs.

The controversy has reignited the debate about the rights of India’s minorities under the Hindu nationalist government. Activists have said attacks against Muslims and their religious symbols have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The hijab ban came as the religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, faced attacks from the right-wing Hindu groups in the state – home to the Indian IT hub of Bengaluru. The state’s Hindu-nationalist BJP government has passed laws against cow slaughter and anti-conversion believed to target minorities.

However, the governing BJP defended the hijab ban, arguing that it violates rules on uniform.

“Educational institutions are not the place to practice one’s religion. The girls must focus on education and come to college to study not to assert identity,” Ganesh Karnik, the party spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

He said that it was a small group of students stirring up the issue as the government on Monday ordered an investigation into the role of “vested interests” supporting students demanding entry of hijab-wearing girls.

But the girls said they cannot be forced to give up their hijab.

“We can’t just remove it. This is targeted harassment by the authorities,” Al-Rifaa, a student from another college in Kundapur, told Al Jazeera.

“For the last 30 years, the college had no issue with hijab. Why is it suddenly a problem, what has triggered this?,” Rifaa asked.


Monday 14 February 2022

The Trojan Horse Affair


A strange letter appears on a city councillor’s desk in Birmingham, England, laying out an elaborate plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate the city’s schools. The plot has a code name: Operation Trojan Horse. The story soon explodes in the news and kicks off a national panic. By the time it all dies down, the government has launched multiple investigations, beefed up the country’s counterterrorism policy, revamped schools and banned people from education for the rest of their lives.

To Hamza Syed, who is watching the scandal unfold in his city, the whole thing seemed … off. Because through all the official inquiries and heated speeches in Parliament, no one has ever bothered to answer a basic question: Who wrote the letter? And why? The night before Hamza is to start journalism school, he has a chance meeting in Birmingham with the reporter Brian Reed, the host of the hit podcast S-Town. Together they team up to investigate: Who wrote the Trojan Horse letter? They quickly discover that it’s a question people in power do not want them asking.

From Serial Productions and The New York Times comes The Trojan Horse Affair: a mystery in eight parts.



Thursday 3 February 2022

Hindutva Chauvinism Needs to be Censured


Chauvinism remains the greatest threat to pluralism and often triggers genocide. When a chauvinist group is in power, it poses a mortal threat to others not just within its own confined spaces but also outside. In our time, Modi and the Sangh Parivar have become a threat to all the non-Hindus everywhere. It is no accident that Muslim and Christian minorities in India are the worst sufferers in the hands of Hindutvadi fascists, while the BJP government and its party leaders incite extermination campaigns.

Genocide is a process and not an end result. It goes through several stages. As I have noted elsewhere nearly a decade ago, “Genocide requires preparation and planning. It begins in the minds of men and needs mass mobilization to commit the horror against the targeted group. The perpetrators or the executioners must not only feel secure but also must be self-motivated and zealous to commit their horrendous crimes. Oftentimes, the task of preparing the mind is left to ideologues and chauvinist intellectuals who sell the poison tablet of intolerance against the targeted group. Without political leadership the overwhelming majority of the perpetrators would not lift a finger in harm. However, once set in motion, typically with a few encouraging and enabling words, they, both – the eliminationist regimes’ shock troops and their societies’ ordinary members – give themselves, body and soul, to death. They do so easily, effortlessly.”

And this is what we are witnessing today in places like India and Myanmar.

Last month, a Dharma Sansad (Hindu convention) was attended by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party. The 3-day summit, perhaps more properly should be called a hate-fest, was held from December 17 to 19, 2021 in northern India's Haridwar city where multiple speakers, all dressed in saffron garb, the traditional dress for the Hindu priests, made calls for genocide of minorities, especially the country's 200 million Muslims. A part of the event was livestreamed on social media. The videos of some of the speeches have also gone viral.

Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand, the notorious priest of Dasna Devi temple in Ghaziabad who was recently anointed 'Mahamandaleshwar' of the Juna Akhara,  told the gathering as the crowd cheered, "Economic boycott won't work. Hindu groups need to update themselves [with better weapons]. Swords look good on stage only. This battle against Muslims will be won by those with better weapons."

Another speaker Sadhvi Annapurna, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha [Hindu Grand Assembly], called for the mass murder of Muslims, according to the English news website The Wire. "Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail. Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakhs (i.e., 2 million) of them [Muslims], then we will be victorious, and go to jail," Annapurna said.

Dharamdas Maharaj from Bihar said: "If I was present in the parliament when PM Manmohan Singh said that minorities have first right over national resources, I would've followed Nathuram Godse (who killed MK Gandhi), I'd have shot him six times in the chest with a revolver."

Anand Swaroop Maharaj,  who heads the Sambhavi Dhaam, asked Hindus to boycott Muslim vendors. He said that the decision of the Dharm Sansad was the "word of God" and that the government would have to listen to it.  He said: "If the governments do not listen to our demand (of establishment of a Hindu Rashtra through violence against minorities), we will wage a war far scarier than the 1857 revolt."

Sagar Sindhuraj Maharaj emphasized, “I keep repeating again and again that instead of buying Rs 5000 mobile buy Rs 1 lakh (or 100,000) rupee weapon. You should at least have sticks and swords.”

Another Hindu seer, Prabodhanand Giri, who runs an organization called Hindu Raksha Sena in Haridwar, invoked the crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as a model for what can be done to drive Muslims away, a monstrous event that has been covered in the media.  He associates himself with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, whose picture is featured on his Facebook page. Speaking to the NDTV News the following day, he said that he stood by what he said, and asserted that he was not afraid of the police.

It is reported that around the same time as the Haridwar Summit, a gathering of Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organization founded by Yogi Adityanath, met in Delhi to take an oath. Raising their hands, the hundreds of members chanted, "We make a resolution until our last breath: We will make India a Hindu nation, and keep it a Hindu-only nation. We will fight and die if required, we will kill as well." Importantly, the oath was administered by none other than Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of the right-wing news channel, Sudarshan News, who was involved in hate speech over TV controversy last year. He then tweeted a video of the oath to his half a million followers. One of the bail conditions generally is that one should not repeat the offence.

There is little doubt that the fascist ideology of Hindutva has hijacked Hinduism.

As we all know, the genocide against the Jews and Roma gypsies did not start with the gas-chambers; it started with hate speech against those targeted minorities. For decades, the Hindutvadi fascists have prepared their base too well to perpetrate violence and savagery of all kinds against the loathed minority Muslims. Consequently, not a single day goes in today’s India without a Muslim being lynched somewhere in this country. They are reminded that there is no place for them in India, and that if they wanted to live they should settle in the neighboring Muslim countries.