India’s Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, recently expressed his opinion about hijabs in a radio show. As a member of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu Nationalist Party, Shah said that all Indians should “accept the school’s dress code,” and that Muslims should not be allowed to wear the hijab to school. The current petition was initially launched by several Muslim schoolchildren in the state of Karnataka, in southern India, but has now led to tensions between Hindus, who are the majority religion, and Muslims, who currently constitute 13 percent of the Indian population. Schools were even closed amid protests on both sides.
Ethnoreligious tensions between the two groups have existed for a long time, but escalated in particular when the British granted independence to their colonial possessions in South Asia. The countries of India and Pakistan were, in theory, created to house the Hindu and Muslim populations respectively; however, in practice, many Hindus lived in present-day Pakistan, and vice versa. This therefore led to a refugee crisis in the border zone, where Hindus were migrating east, while Muslims were moving west. Currently, the population of these two countries have become more ethnically homogenous, but still, minority groups exist, and suffer.
The current status between Hindus and Muslims in India is complicated. Many Muslims feel as though they are neglected by the Indian government, which is led by a nationalist government with ministers who are proud to be Hindu. Their understanding of Indian citizenship has excluded the religion of Islam, which means Muslims are entitled to less rights, politically and socially. Violence is also not uncommon in India, particularly between these two religious groups, with deaths sometimes occurring. In border regions between India and Pakistan, and India and Bangladesh, which are Muslim countries, conflicts are more likely to be violent.
The controversial statement made by the Indian Home Minister might have continued to fuel disagreements among Hindus and Muslims. For Muslim women, the hijab is a symbol of religious freedom, and is a choice that they might want to make. Several countries, in recent years, have placed limits on the wearing of burqa, which is a headdress worn by Muslim women which covers the entire face. These include some European countries, such as France, Denmark, and Austria, which have seen an increase in immigration from Muslim countries.
Placing limits on the wearing of the hijab is definitely not a peaceful move by a country. The Indian state has recently continued to persecute its Muslim country, and not allowing Muslim schoolchildren to wear the hijab to school is a serious violation of their right to religious belief and expression. The court’s decision will be published in the near future, and the Indian government has acknowledged that they would agree with the court and will publish their policy accordingly.
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