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Things are happening the way Hinduta fascists had planned – there is further religious polarization along the hijab issue; more hatred and our unwary Left – Liberals walking into the trap laid for them. For over a decade hijab or the head scarf has become a point of controversy all over the the world.Though it was a never an integral part of religious practice, it became a symbol of new Islamic fundamentalism, particularly in its jihad against secularism and the autonomy of women as equal and free citizens. Hijab or burkhah (often as the iconic picture below shows, they are interchangeable) is a coercive tool of patriarchy to impose its authority over the female body. It will not allow the body even to be looked with admiration by other males. It is inconvenient to be swaddled by an extra layer of ugly, black garment and, in the hot and mostly humid climate of the subcontinent, unhygienic as well. Surprisingly, the Quran does not enjoin the women believers to completely cover themselves but only to cover their bosoms. It is understandable as women of many newly converted tribes did not always properly cover themselves. It is to be found in the Hadith and many scholars are of opinion that it was owing to the Persian influence. The highly civilized but at this point decadent Persians had begun to culturally conquer their conquerors much in the same way Greeks did the Romans.

When Mustafa Kamal established the modern Turkish nation state, burkhah was banned as a hateful relic of the old order. Under Reza Pahlavi Shah Iranian women, compared with neighbouring Muslim states, enjoyed considerable freedom. After the Iranian Revolution led by Shi’te fundamentalists, hijab and burkhah were reimposed. The protests of urban women were ruthlessly suppressed. In response to the rising tide of militant Islam among the French Muslims, France the cradle of secularism, banned hijab in 2011. In India it has been a source of controversy. The Kerala High Court in Fatima Tahmeen versus the State of Kerala (2018)gave the verdict that the court could not tell schools to allow Muslim girls to wear hijab. Of course Muslim girls have the right to wear hijab but only in the ‘individual interest’. However, educational institutions have the right to set restrictions on dress in public interest. Whether the Udipi college which refused to let the hijab clad girls in had a dress code in the past or not, is immaterial. Of late it had imposed such a dress code and if we go by the ruling of the Kerala High Court, it has a right to. By violating the dress code the girls were only furnishing Hindutva fundamentalists with the opportunity to start their vicious hate campaign. Allahu Akbar will be more than matched by their war cry ‘Jay Sriram’, all to their advantage.

In Bengal Muslim women hardly ever put on hijab, not to speak of the full gear. It was the extremely thin layer of self conscious ‘Asraf’ Muslims who compelled their women to wear hijab, not only to differentiate themselves from Hindus but also from fellow poor Muslims who still followed the old folk ways. My friend Bulbul Ahmed says in his own Muslim majority Murshidabad he did not see women going about in burkhah; he saw it first time when he came to Calcutta. That was three decades back. During these years Muslim societies in the sub continent have been increasingly Islamized. Now even in the remote countryside one finds the landscape dotted with the black proclaiming their separate identity. This is also evident in Kerala with high literacy and a Left tradition and also in coastal Karnataka where Udipi is situated. In Kerala this was accompanied with Islamist radicalism. A few years back jihadi Islamists chopped off the hand of PJ Josheph, Professor of, Malayalam at Newman’s College, Thodupuzha for supposedly insulting the prophet by setting a passage for translation. The gruesome act is reminiscent of similar atrocities of ISIS. No wonder not a few men and women from the state enrolled for the ISIS and Taliban. When a street in the Muslim majority Mallapuram district was renamed Gaza, the Central Government objected but the Left intellectuals supported. Wasn’t it in recognition of the heroic resistance of the Palestinians against the ‘settlers colony’ called Israel? One wonders why they do not rename the streets after such remarkable Muslims as Nazrul Islam Sadat Manto, Nobel Laureate Abdus Samad or Mujibar Rahman. They will never. Anyone who dares to critique the widespread inequities and repressions of Muslim societies or anyone who fought against an Islamic state as Mujib did is unacceptable. They are not Muslims but enemies of Islam! Our Left Liberals, betraying their democratic or revolutionary ideologies, speak in the voice of the most reactionary elements of Muslim societies. It is difficult to say which of the two fundamentalisms – Hindu and Muslim – appeared first but doubtlessly they compliment each other.

It is duty of the Left-Liberals to defend the rights of Muslims and other religious minorities as equal citizens – their right not only to observe their religions but to be stakeholders in the republic enjoying protections and benefits in more than equal measure. This ought not to be confused with the protection of regressive and repressive practices in the name of minority rights.Yet our Left Liberals are exactly doing this inviting Hindu resentment and backlash. This began with Gandhi, arch opportunist and egoist who would stop at nothing to achieve personal glory. He hitched the nationalist movement to the Pan Islamic demand to restore the Khilafate. He stoked the Muslim hatred against the Christian ruler with fearful consequences. When he abruptly withdrew the movement, the worked up conservative Muslims vented their frustration on hapless Hindus. Gandhi disliked Muslim liberals like Jinnah, his love was all for the conservatives. After the independence the Hindu Code Bill sought to remove the disabilities that Hindu women suffered but carefully avoided introducing a similar bill to amend Muslim Personal Law of the colonial period that discriminated against women. Again, to appease Muslim sentiment, the Indian government under Indian National Congress did not recognize Israel. Israel baiting has since become the agenda of the Left, often using rabidly anti semitic propaganda aired by various jehadi outfits .In Bengal under the Left government madrassa schools proliferated enormously. It only contributed to the backwardness of the community, one of the poorest in the country. They also maintain a curious silence over the atrocities against minorities in the neighboring Muslim countries and elsewhere on the spacious ground that it might trigger off persecution of Muslims. They would speak endlessly against Israeli repression of the Palestinians but utter no word against the persecution of Kurds and other religious minorities in Arab countries. The Left is rightly critical of the Brahminical tradition which it should but approaches Islam with a reverential mood. When Islamist terrorists butchered the artists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo, most of Left condoned it recalling French atrocities in Algeria. But such servile appeasement and scandalous apologies are ultimately self defeating. It did not particularly endear the left to the Muslims though to the National Congress it paid political dividends. The misguided sympathies of our progressives and worse still, their laboured apologia have only helped the Hindutva forces to denounce secularism, and push vigoursly for their sinister agenda of a Hindu Rastra where Muslims will be reduced to a vulnerable second class minority. Our Left Liberals cannot avoid their responsibility for its near realization before our eyes.
Bhaskar Sur

*दलित टाइम्स उन करोड़ो लोगो की आवाज़ है जिन्हें हाशिए पर रखा गया है। *

महिला, दलित और आदिवासियों के मुद्दों पर केंद्रित पत्रकारिता करने और मुख्यधारा की मीडिया में इनका प्रतिनिधित्व करने के लिए हमें आर्थिक सहयोग करें।


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