Take Your Headscarf Off, Show Us Your Hair and Get Your Education — Hindus to Hijab-Wearing Muslim Girls

Dheeraj DeeKay
18 min readFeb 21, 2022


Image courtesy: The Hindu

From what I know and can remember Muslim girls in school (not all but some of them) have been wearing hijab (or headscarf) for ages now. It was just another piece of clothing that never bothered us, to the point that we never even noticed its existence. I even know of girls and even teachers who would arrive at school in niqab (or burqa, black outer clothing like a rain-or-sun-coat) and then they would remove it before entering a classroom. Again, this wasn’t a point of conversation or of difference. The only time I have been thinking of these clothing choices and the faces of friends that wore them is now. Now when many schools in Karnataka (and even in Madhya Pradesh, another BJP ruled state) have banned young girls (and even teachers) from covering their hair with a cloth also referred to as wearing hijab. It all started with Hindu kids sloganeering and hooting — all of a sudden — as Muslim kids passed before them. Or running to Muslim kids and shouting — Jai Shri Ram — a war cry of Hindus now. The lord Ram (or simply Ram) of Ramayana, if you have ever read, is a soft-spoken and light-mannered hero of the epic. He does everything in a measured and reserved manner. There is this soft tenderness to his actions and his approach to things. In the whole of epic, there is only once that we see Ram agitated and outraged — when the ocean god does not agree to his demand to make way for him and his army to go to Lanka and rescue his wife. It is this image of Ram that the militant Hindu organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has adopted on their posters and hate paraphernalia, and it is this Ram you see depicted elsewhere by Hindus that subscribe to RSS’s worldview. The same is the case with Hanuman (there is no instance in the Ramayana of Hanuman displaying aggression but the monkey-god posters you see everywhere now show him in desperate anger and in all-red). The usual picture of Ram that we saw was of him smiling quietly and standing alongside his wife and his brother while Hanuman stood at his feet. The impression was of a feminine soft-spoken hero, not of a military general. And chant at his temples, say at Mathura and Vrindavan or Ayodhya was ‘Siyavar Ramachandra ki Jai’ (Victory to the groom of Sita, Ramachandra). He was not the centre of the chant but his wife was; he was invoked through her. That was the Ram from Ramayana, the one I knew until the mobs of RSS-BJP descended on streets, heckled and lynched to death the many Indians with chants of Jai Shri Ram.

So we have Hindu crowds chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and trying to scare Muslim hijab-wearing girls, then Hindu groups coming with saffron shawls and later the schools starting to object these girls wearing hijab and now courts debating whether the hijab is central to the religion of Muslims or not. Do you see the problem here? We have conspicuously and to our own benefit have forgotten-and-forgiven the majority community of its divisive-and-violent methods and instead, we are now questioning the basics of minority religion.

The school, high school and college I went to or even the offices that I worked at, all of them in their practises and culture never once felt alien to me or my way of living. Yes, they spoke English during events that were alien at my home. The food served at Hostel mess was strictly vegetarian except for the egg served on Wednesday. Now although having a vegetarian meal every day was alien, having vegetarian meals in itself wasn’t alien. At our home, we are required to consume strictly-vegetarian food when there’s any festival — like during Ganesh Chaturthi or Deepavali and even during weddings. A vegetarian meal and those who consume vegetarian meals always enjoy high moral value in the Hindu pantheon. It is strange how we the meat-eaters worship gods that despise our food, the one thing that sustains us and makes us capable of praying to them. Apart from these few non-harmful diversions, everything else was like at home. The school office, staff room, principal’s room, all had pictures of our gods. Every function began with lighting lamps and chanting mantras. At school, the morning physical exercises started with Sanskrit prayer, then school assembly in the morning started with Sanskrit prayer, all meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner were initiated again with Sanskrit prayers. At my home this wasn’t the custom, we never prayed before meals. So essentially I was praying and chanting mantras more at school than at my home. I was also having too many vegetarian meals. If anything I was being converted into a Brahminical specimen of saatvik purush. I don’t remember my parents ever being asked about this. I don’t also think they would’ve objected. For generations now local customs and gods have been sacrificed and replaced with Brahminical rituals, customs and food habits. The many vegetarians in India are not vegetarians of consciousness but their parents have forced this choice on them. Being vegetarian is a religious habit in India. And in comparison vegetarian prayer is considered in high regard versus a prayer from non-vegetarians. So what I was doing at school compared to at my home was practising a higher degree of Hinduism (I would say upper casteism but let’s not go there). We celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi, Saraswati Puja and other festivals at school. On festival days it was welcome to dress in traditional — i.e., Hindu traditional dress. In offices, we not only celebrate festivals but on occasions like Dasara, in many offices, everyone is required to wear particular colour on a particular day. It is mandated. And there’s more. So in essence, at schools and offices, we celebrate the Hindu way of life in and out, and unapologetically. We don’t notice it since there’s nothing abnormal or extraordinary for us to look at. What we do at school and in the office is similar to what we do at home. Might vary in degrees and sequences but at its heart, it is the same. But now imagine the life of a Muslim kid in India. Everything at school is alien to her and him. Posters on the wall of gods to prayers to festivities. Every day they are forced to question their faith. So many Hindus would object if school walls had posters say of a Dargah or of Kaaba 🕋. And yet Muslims have been enduring this infinite assault on their senses without any outrage. And we Hindus dare call Muslims the intolerants and extremists? Would we sing one of their Arabic prayers on one day of the week? If any teacher dared even once, we would inform our parents and they would quickly rush to the Principal’s office to complain. In fact, the teacher would be dragged to a police station or maybe a mob would descend and lynch the poor teacher. And I’m not exaggerating this, we Hindus have lynched Muslims for just existing. “In Jharkhand, on 17 June 2019, a young man called Tabrez Ansari (22 years) was tied to a pole sometime around midnight and beaten by a mob till six in the morning. As he was being battered, Tabrez Ansari was asked to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’. He did. It did not save him. He died four days later,” Ravish Kumar wrote of Tabrez’s murder in his must-read book, The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation. We Hindus have never been accommodating of Muslims or people of other faith. Would we accept a Christian prayer in a government school? No way. But I know of my Christian friends that sang Sanskrit shlokas in school prayers and before meals every day including on Sundays. They did not object. Their parents did not too. They were accommodating and tolerant. Their gods weren’t hurt by it, their faith wasn’t shaken by their kids singing prayers of other faith. Or celebrating festivals of other faith. Most of the plays in schools that we acted in were stories from Hindu epics. We acted in them, we saw them and so did students from other faith including Muslims. I even remember a Muslim friend of mine playing Lord Krishna in one play in which I was playing some Hindu saint. I don’t remember his parents objecting to it. Or even Hindus that saw that play then. In fact, the teacher who cast him was a Hindu upper-caste Brahmin. None of us saw it as problematic then but all hells will break loose now.

And what are the arguments against Hijab from the Hindu right-wing? You hear a lot of patriarchy-patriarchy then uniform-uniform. The first doesn’t cut it since these are the same Hindu bunch that parade their women everywhere including inside their homes with that noose aka mangalsutra around their neck, sindoor and bindi on their forehead; all prime patriarchal symbols. For most Hindus, the unspoken rule is that women who are menstruating are not allowed to enter temples, religious shrines or even prayer rooms. There are even certain temples in India, such as the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, wherein women who are within the age of menstruating are forbidden from entering. Girls who have not matured yet and women who have reached menopause are allowed entry into the temple. In some households, a woman on her period is not allowed to sleep on the bed, eat from daily kitchenware and must wash her clothes separately. In most rural households, they are not even allowed to enter the house. So it can’t be that Hindus who practise such thick patriarchy at home will have a problem with girls merely covering their hair to school on this ground. Is it then the case of imposition of uniform? Hindus want all children to follow the school uniform strictly? Or at least that’s what so many have been shouting about.

Now, why do schools require uniforms? I wouldn’t go into it since it’s a topic with both sides, and they both have their own merits. Also, note that uniforms are not uniform all over the world — we decide what would be our school uniform. Dupatta is part of the uniform in India but not so elsewhere in the world, mini-skirts are part of girls’ uniforms in Japan but not so in India. So there’s nothing stopping us from having a uniform that goes with everyone or better, let there be multiple options in uniform, students can choose whichever they feel comfortable in. Coming back to the site and state of outrage; Karnataka in fact has a rule against uniforms — the Admission Guidelines-2021–22 posted on the Department of Pre-University Education (DPUE) website not just states that the uniform is not mandatory, but also points out that some college principals and managements making uniform mandatory is a violation of rules. Are you able to get your head around this? That’s not all. As Asaduddin Owaisi pointed outIn 2019, Ireland allowed hijab and turban in police uniform. The decision was welcomed by the Modi government, saying it was in the interest of the diaspora. If it was “historic” for Ireland, then why bother with the girls of Karnataka? Why is their dignity being blown away? So we don’t have a problem with the hijab as a uniform too. So the two primary arguments — uniform and patriarchy — don’t stand or are not the real reasons why Hindus are agitating. What is it then? Two of my friends, one on Twitter and another on Instagram were stressing about children and uniforms, like the uniform must be mandatory for children-children-children. And so my every argument would be countered with “but children and uniform”. Yesterday, the schools in Karnataka even made teachers of the school disrobe their hijab and burqa (outer clothing), at the school gate, in front of the whole gathered crowd (An English professor in Karnataka resigned today citing “self-respect” after she was asked to remove her hijab before entering her college). So the hijab ban isn’t about just children, at least not anymore. And in anyways, the primary goal of schools is to get more and more children into them to impart education and not propagate uniformity. If that was so, we would have had a uniform syllabus and a single language being taught to them. But that’s not the case, is it? That might be the aim eventually but right now at least, that’s not the case.

The only argument or reason that remains is the religion of the little girls going to school with hijab — their identity of being Muslims. And forget oppression, these girls, schoolgoing girls, stood out in open against school administration and against such a large mass of hyena-like right-wing forces and asserted their defiance. That’s no small feat. So many of us so easily bow to authority in offices and of course in schools/colleges out of the fear of being reprimanded by higher-ups. To stand up for one’s beliefs takes absolute courage. And that girl who came to school riding a two-wheeler herself, who parked it and then walked out of a mob that surrounded her and shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ to instil fear in her psyche — she walked out of that with her head and fist held high towards the sky. That was extraordinary courage on display there. These are oppressed girls? Really? This is your definition of oppression? How many girls from your family are allowed to go to school riding bikes? How many women in your family are allowed to ride bikes? If anything, Hindu parents must learn from these Muslim parents and their girls. Maybe they could start a crash course on youtube that Hindu parents and their children can enrol. That would benefit them and also this nation.

Through almost four months of protest, photos from the streets of Sudan were rare. Aside from avid observers, few had access to visual documentation of the movement trying to force three-decade ruler Omar Bashir from power. All this changed with this photograph of 22-year-old student Alaa Salah.
Muskan who walked out of the Hindu right-wing mob became the fierce face of Hijab ban controversy

The mob does what it does. It terrorises, creates division in societies and alienates the already alienated. As Ravish Kumar pointed out so succinctly — A mob has its own constitution. It has its own country. It drafts its own orders and directives, and identifies its own prey. But you expect the state and court to abide by the constitution that was drafted by the founders of this republic. Especially the court. For instance, the South African Constitutional Court when a similar petition of a Tamil Hindu girl to wear nose-stud in school as a cultural practice came at its door, went about it in a progressive manner that expanded human values, the culture of diversity and nature of tolerance in their nation.

All the common arguments right-wing is giving today in India were struck down by the court there explaining why they think the other way. They decided in favour of the girl, her choice of wearing the nose-stud to school and her belief in her faith. You can find judgement here.

Our courts are debating (or factoring) if hijab is central to Islam as if to say what Indians do in their day-to-day life is derived from the religious books. If that was so, Hindus, all of them would continue to this day to be beef-eaters since the old scriptures and people who wrote them ate beef in plenty. We even have a great sage on record scoffing that he prefers meat of a tender calf!

Washington-based Pew Research Centre’s ‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’ report finds that 89% Indian Muslim women cover their heads outside their home. But so do 86% Sikh women, 59% Hindu women and 21% Christian women. Moreover, 18% Hindus (mostly Brahmins) wear a janeu, while 53% Hindu men wear the tilak; 69% Sikhs wear a turban; and 51% of all people surveyed (including 51% Hindus and 50% Muslims) across religions generally wear “a religious pendant, such as an amulet, cross, image or symbol of god.”

The India Cable

So will court one by one strike all of these and other religious symbols down? At least from schools, colleges, offices and primarily from the parliament where we have MPs wearing saffron robes. Will they? Or is the proving of essential and non-essential practises only applicable to Muslims? Also, this is not the first time when the court has taken this route. Even in Ayodhya judgement court maintained that the masjid was demolished illegally and statues of Ram Lalla were placed illegally but then it went into the argument whether masjid was an essential aspect of Islam and awarded a verdict in the favor of Hindus who were the ones like in hijab case who started the mess, went on a rampage, resorted to violence or disturbed the status quo.

Hindu girls who came with saffron shawls in protest against Hijab — why now?

One of the most striking images from the scenes of Hindus chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in these videos as Muslim girls in hijab walk by is of a group of Hindu girls supporting the male hooligans by wearing saffron shawls and saffron headgear. Do these girls not know how much it takes for a female child to venture out from home? Are they not aware of cultural policing? To begin with, most girls are not allowed to go to school. Then some who attend school are barred from going to college. And even if they are permitted, a small error like say someone snitching about her sitting or laughing with a boy will invite a ban on her further studies. None of these restrictions applies to boys. In colleges where there are no uniforms, girls still follow a dress code enforced by their homes and society at large. They can’t wear just any dress as they please. And you will find them wearing these dresses that are approved by their parents despite their displeasure. If you ask them they will tell you these are minor giveaways so they could get the larger freedom that education enables them to have. So you find them accepting a certain degree of policing from their parents and society so they could attend colleges like their male counterparts. Hijab too exists and functions in this context. Some ladies even in their adult life continue to wear the traditional dress (they used to wear to colleges) just like some Muslim girls continue to wear hijab into their adulthood. Many even start wearing hijab in their adult life, on their own. Angshuman Choudhury & Suraj Gogoi point exactly this in their scroll piece — the right to wear the hijab (or not) should rest with Muslim women. That choice should solely be their prerogative. This should be the beginning and end of any intellectual discussion on the use of the veil in schools, colleges or any other public space. Ruha Shadab wrote in HT, the immediate issue is not about whether Muslim women in India should be wearing a hijab. The issue is whether anyone should be deciding if they are “allowed” to do so. If people are interested in “liberating” women from wearing a hijab, they must recognise that forcing women to do anything in the name of liberation does not achieve their goal. If the argument is that religious symbols should be banned in India, then stop wearing the janeu, teekas, mangalsutras, and sindoor. What a woman can and cannot wear is a control tactic used to subjugate them. Forcing them to remove their hijab is an example of control tactics, which stokes fear and alienation, but perhaps most importantly, hatred. While the issue and people at its heart are Muslim school-going girls, the attack is solely not about hijab which Choudhary and Gogoi succinctly summarise — The sudden and rapid escalation of a non-issue like the hijab into a matter of national concern, that too by show of force, suggests an insidious and systematic attempt to de-Muslimise Indian Muslims through a mix of violent intimidation and socio-legal morality is underway. So, the anti-hijab argument today is being made in a predominantly sectarian context by a group of people who are avowedly anti-secular and have full sanction from the state. All said and done, it is heartening and utterly sad what we are doing to these girls who merely want to go to school. What’s so wrong and criminal about allowing these girls into schools with headscarves which we have been allowing until recently anyway? We even allow, and rightly so, convicted criminals to finish their education from prisons. By forcing these girls to remove their headscarves in exchange for education we are not helping them in any way instead we are creating more problems for these girls. We are further complicating their already complex life. We will just end up depriving them of education. For some Hindus, this might be a hard pill to swallow. You see, they see the hijab as a symbol of oppression but they don’t see the uniform with dupatta with the same lens. Dupatta to them is a ‘common’ culture but the headscarf is Islamic religious wear (and an oppressive one at that). When does one thing become a ‘common’ culture and until how long must the another remain restricted to just one community despite being worn by so many in the market and elsewhere. Why do Indian families ask girls to drape a dupatta whenever they venture out, even to the house door to collect a parcel? Is that not oppression? Not getting my point? Alright, have a look at the following dress.

Would the Indian parents — belonging to any religion — allow this dress as a school uniform? Absolutely not. But why? Japanese schools have this as their uniform. Why would we have a problem? That old rape argument is hogwash. Japan has significantly fewer rape numbers than India. So no, mini-skirts don’t cause rapes. Nor do hijabs stop them. That is, uniforms have nothing to do with rapes. Uniforms are merely pieces of clothes that we (school committees) have decided to be their chosen style of wear. And these school committees can easily include hijab in their guidelines. In fact, the school where this outrage first started and others that followed had hijab as a uniform. Girls used to wear hijab of the uniform colour and came to school for a long time now. You won’t have to scratch your head a minute longer to guess why and who started this outrage now. No doubt it is political and those who started it with the chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ belong to a certain political ideology. Pitting two communities or cultures that have coexisted for long against each other, encouraging people to see how different others are and how both of them don’t belong to the same entity (nation), to aggravate or scale-up minor feuds and differences into big issues, creating differences where none existed is the meat and potatoes of RSS-BJP politics. While in past they targeted adults, they are now straight-up targeting young kids because it’s easier to rile these kids up. This is the militarisation of youth just the way Al-Qaeda and other terror organizations in Pakistan did at one point. And I can bet that parents of these kids watch godi media channels like Zee News or local variants of it. These parents haven’t been told by their newspapers or television channels of sulli-deals and bulli-deals, two apps on which Muslim women were auctioned by Hindu men and women. Vishal Kumar Jha (21), Niraj Bishnoi (20), Shweta Singh (18), Mayank Rawat (21), Aumkareshwar Thakur (26), Neeraj Singh (28) — all Hindus — were arrested over these auctioning rings. Niraj tried to mislead the police by saying that the Sulli Deals app, which auctioned prominent Muslim women, was created by a Muslim man, Javed Alam, an engineering graduate from Uttar Pradesh. Shweta and Mayank, police said, intentionally used Sikh names on Twitter to promote enmity between Muslims and Sikhs. Creating divisions and enmity between two communities — which political entity benefits from this? It appears the open solidarity Muslims showed towards Sikh farmers in recent protests and Sikh solidarity for Muslims during anti-CAA protests hasn’t gone well with the bigoted Hindus. Note also that the arrested men and women are young and educated and hail from different parts of the country. So the hate is no more concentrated in one state or one region and this is very alarming and bother us all. India is a microcosm of the entire world order. Unity in diversity isn’t just a stray line to be taught in school but is the foundation on which this nation stands. If differences are left to grow like this then we will cease to exist in near future. The cost of communal politics played by RSS-BJP is paid now by the parents of these young children and our nation, whose next generation is growing as hateful timebombs waiting to be exploited by the Sangh-Parivar whenever they are in need of new divisions to be created for their electoral windfalls. The nominal Hindus, the ones you and I talk to and interact with, that casually spread this hate via fake news and propaganda material on social media and in their casual conversations don’t realise that the hate that these politicians spew and spread comes with a real cost. And one of its brutal costs is the innocence of these children. The politics of RSS-BJP combine is imbuing the minds of young kids with hate towards their countrymen; many of the people they now hate because of their religion could have become their close friends but thanks to the divisive agenda, we instead now have ticking time bombs waiting to be triggered when next elections get announced. What Ravish Kumar of NDTV said long ago — Communalism turns human beings into bombs — is now happening right before our eyes. But some of us have decided to look the other way.



Dheeraj DeeKay

I Listen. I Speak. I Write. I Do. And That’s Why I Am. Storyteller at large! Oh yeah, also a Programmer, Full Stack Developer when at desk.