Teach Respect and Compassion

‘Religious Gurus Duty Bound To Build A Righteous Society’

Pandit Kamlesh Tiwari, 32, a Hindu priest and astrologer from Delhi, says religious leaders must lead from the front to teach respect and compassion towards fellow beings

I was born and raised in Ayodhya, the city of Lord Ram and I am of the firm view that religion teaches us to understand others better and not to demean those who follow a different faith. Lord Ram is considered the epitome of human behaviour (Maryada Purushottam) and it would do well for us to understand how kind and sensitive he was to others’ concerns.

In fact if religious leaders are not humble, not respectful towards others then they themselves have not understood religion. As someone who has grown up in the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, I feel we are slowly losing out on the love-filled outlook. It is time religious leaders stepped up on their responsibility.

It is the duty of religious leaders to talk in a way that ordinary people understand and can easily implement in their lives.  Otherwise dharmgurus from any religion are, as Kabir has said, Bada hua toh kya hua, jaise ped khajoor. Panthi ko chaya nahi, fal laage ati door (are towering personas with little use for fellow beings).

It is also the job of parents to listen and talk to their kids, only then can true love and peace among communities can flourish. Dharma is first taught at home and it means it is our duty to love ourselves and others. Kids these days have no guidance from anyone about how to be behave and react very easily. Parents need to take out time to love themselves and kids.

ALSO READ: ‘Religious Leaders Must Act As Ethical Guides’

I do feel that as a country we need to learn how to respect women better. Almost all religions and religious books respect women, but they are being treated badly. In India we hear so many cases every day and we really need to take women’s safety as a top priority.

Tiwari feels knowledge must bring humility in the seeker

The current situation over the hijab and many other issues about women’s safety makes me feel that there is a communication gap between men and women. In fact I would like to say this to all young boys and girls that while we are pursuing education we shouldn’t be rigidly holding on to opinions because we are still learning. It is said Vidya dadati vinayam (Education makes us humble), so we shouldn’t be fighting while we are pursuing education and after pursuing education there is no need to fight, because everyone understands Gods in their own way.

Besides, if one’s heart hasn’t been touched by religion then there is no point wearing just outer symbols. However, we should not harass those who don’t understand this point. I feel both sides are showing their ego in the guise of hijab, they both don’t understand religion truly. God is in the heart and not in outer symbols merely.

It is men’s responsibility not to force their will or understanding on others. As religious leaders we can only tell people a broad path they can walk on for happiness and peace, but we cannot walk it for them. Desh, kal aur paristhiti dekh kar vyavahar karna chahiye logon ko, yahi shanti ka rasta hai. So everyone has to listen to their own minds and hearts (vivek) and behave accordingly.

Political leaders also need to take care to understand issues in depth before talking about them in a hasty manner. In Awadh we have a saying: Jisme sheel (patience and compassion) nahi hai, uska shareer bekar hai. So compassion is the pillar of religion. A truly religious person would cool things down rather than increase the chaos.

As told to Yog Maya Singh

Don’t Support Allowing Burqa or Hijab

‘I Will Advise My Muslim Sisters To Choose Education Over Hijab’

Saniya Khan, 23, a practising Muslim from Karnataka, says hijab row is the creation of political vested interests and students must not play into their hands

I am a devout Muslim who wears burqa every time I step out of my house. Yet, I don’t support allowing burqa or hijab in schools. This statement might sound confusing to many of your readers but allow me to explain my position.

I firmly believe that an ostensible display of religious practices should be kept away from schools or workplace where certain protocols are followed to bring about a uniformity an impartiality. Whether burqa, hijab or a tilak, one should refrain from carrying one’s religious identity on the sleeve in a classroom.

You may mistake me as a liberal but I am not; far from it. I am deeply religious and I wear burqa in public space. However, as soon as I enter the office premises, I take it off. For, a workplace has a decorum and propriety that needs to be followed if you choose to join in.

Having said that, I know this hijab controversy has been deliberately created to fulfil the agendas of political parties. The whole issue could have been resolved right when it started but the state elections are due the next year and I strongly suspect that a social experiment is being conducted by some vested interest to polarise society so that they can swing the elections in their favour.

ALSO READ: ‘All Women Must Support Muslim Girls On Hijab’

I see the issue has now spread and spilled over to other parts of the country. A few days ago, my sisters came home from college and informed us that how there was a sense of fear among Muslim girls. Though the college administration hasn’t issued any diktat against burqa or hijab, there were fewer girls wearing burqa in the college. This whole incident shows how much importance these girls give to the education; they are ready to set aside their religious practice for the sake of education.

This episode also gives a message to school and college administration to not deny education to women over a piece of clothing. Women are fighting to get their due status in society and they know they can achieve it through education only. We women have fought a long battle to come to this level. But, if the college administration or the government will decide to reduce our access to education institutions over the matter of hijab or jeans, it will be the defeat of the country. This will expose the hollowness of our leaders’ promise to the right to education, particularly girls’ education

My message is for those schoolgirls also that even they are deeply religious and believe that wearing hijab in schools is their fundamental right, it should be set aside for now. Because, it is serving the purpose of one-kind-of ideology which wants to create a deep rift in the society and in this whole controversy only Muslims are being marginalised.

As told to Md Tausif Alam

Muslim Women Startups

‘Hijab Ban Is A Toxic Mix Of Sexism & Communalism’

Dr Ruha Shadab, who provides mentorship to Muslim women startups, says better education and female participation in national workforce are bigger issues than their choice of clothing

It all started at a government college in Udupi (Karnataka) where six Muslim girls were not allowed to attend classes for wearing hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women. College principal Rudra Gowda said he wanted to ensure uniformity in classrooms. The ban triggered a political slugfest, spreading out of Karnataka to other parts of the country, with demonstrations in favour of and against the hijab ban. The matter is now being heard by the Karnataka High Court. But we are missing the wood for the trees.

The choice of a woman’s clothing has been policed by men in our society and in our civilization for millennia. Women are pushed to fit into a narrow approved-limit of what they can say or cannot, what they can do or cannot, and what they can wear or cannot. Such patriarchal stereotype is not just a violation to the right of Indian Muslim women; this is a direct affront to the human rights. In this light I believe the current hijab ban is a toxic mix of sexism and communalism.

This is hardly the first time that a woman’s choice to cover one’s face or head — using a burqa, niqab or hijab — has created controversy. In 2013, Turkey lifted its decades-old ban on headscarves in the civil service. Many European countries like France, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Russia prohibit full-face veils (niqab and burka) in public spaces such as courts and schools. The debate and disagreement carry on.

ALSO READ: A Headscarf Lifts The Veil Off BJP

In India, interestingly, this episode has taken the wind out of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao slogan. Many political leaders, such as Mehbooba Mufti, have called out the hollowness of this slogan when Muslim girls are being denied the right to education simply because of their attire.

Dr Shadab says hijab ban takes the wind out of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao slogan

Over 50% of Muslim women in India are illiterate today — literacy being officially defined rather generously to include just about anyone who can read and write a sentence or two. The situation in the northern states, and rural areas, is particularly dismal. About 85% of rural north Indian Muslim women are illiterate. The situation in the South, especially in urban areas, is considerably better, with 88% literacy rate among women.

Education indicators of our country are not where they should be, not only in terms of getting more people educated but also in terms of the kind of education that we provide. There are some communities which lag behind national indicators for the average of education and employment indicators. The Muslim woman community is one of them.

This means we need to create a more empowering space to help these marginalised communities to achieve the education level and employment aspirations that we all hold as a country. What is happening right now is the diagonally opposite. Indian Muslim women constitute a community of 100 million people and it is not a homogenous group; even on the matter of hijab, there is a spectrum of opinions among Muslim women.

The hijab is not an issue that this country needs to waste its energy and resources. The problem that needs to be addressed is why are women not an equal participant in the national workforce? Why are women not leading Indian companies in a respectable ratio? Why are our education enrollment and outcomes ratios of some women communities lower than the national average? These are the real issues that beg our attention.

Hijab Ban In Karnataka

A Headscarf Lifts The BJP Veil

First it was Love Jehad. Then, mob-lynching and beef. Then it was Romeo Squads. This was followed by blocking inter-faith marriages, harassing and humiliating adult couples.

If she is an adult Hindu woman wanting to have a consensual marriage with a Muslim or Christian man, then a thousand hurdles will be created for them. Reminds of the gory honour killings of yesteryears. Reminds more grotesquely of how Dalits are degraded and brutalised if they choose to have a relationship with an upper caste woman or man.

If this is the dominant narrative in modern India, that too in a pluralist, secular, democracy, then it is a major civilisational crisis. An entire country is being dragged into a retrograde and regressive abyss, a ghetto from which it will take great guts, resilience, enlightenment and the will to finally transcend into wisdom, love and hope.

As of now, every attempt is being made to turn this unhappy abyss in bad faith, as the principal adrenaline of our civil society, however unsuccessful. And lead protagonist in this horrible public spectacle, being celebrated routinely and ritualistically, is the BJP, the Sangh Parivar, and the states where it has its ruling regimes.

The latest thorn in their flesh are the hijabs worn by innocent and hardworking Muslim school girls in Karnataka, chasing a dream. The Karnataka government has declared that “clothes which disturb equality, integrity and public law and order should not be worn”.

Hijab has been banned in classrooms, though, clearly, it is not a violation of fundamental rights as inscribed in the secular Indian Constitution. Clearly, it is a wilful attack on law-abiding Muslim citizens, Muslim students, and, especially, Muslim girls seeking education and higher aspirations in an unequal, male dominated society.

It is a method followed in a certain predictable and clichéd pattern. In an oblique and yet brazen signal, this implies that it is an attack on Muslim youngsters attaining education, enlightenment, modernity, higher aspiration levels, and thereby finding their rightful time and space in a democratic India. It is therefore yet another signal that if you are inclined for education, then you better follow our repressive and regressive Hindutva rules, and it does not matter what were the values of the Indian freedom struggle.

No wonder, observers are certain that the hounding and prolonged imprisonment of brilliant Muslim scholars such as Umar Khalid on allegedly cooked up charges, is a sharp pointer, that, no, you have no business to reinterpret Indian history and politics, and, surely, you have no business to express dissent, or dream of a better society, and that if you do so, you will rot in jail for no rhyme or reason. This is the short, nasty and brutish message to all concerned, especially dissenters, especially youngsters, especially enlightened Muslim scholars, both men and women.

The banning of the Hijab, therefore, is part of this predictable and sick pattern. And, pray, how can wearing a headscarf ‘‘disturb equality, integrity and public law and order’’?

In that case, dupattas should be banned, and so should turbans, caps and hats. In that case, no one should wear a ‘tilak’ on his or her forehead, nor any sign or ornament depicting their religious identity. In that case, youngsters with shaven heads, mourning the death of their loved ones, should not be able to attend schools.

ALSO READ: Those Who Normalise Bulli Bai Creators, Are Breeding Rapists

And what if a Brahmin boy comes with a shaven head, what is called a ‘boddi’ in the Hindi heartland? Will he too be so unfortunately banned from attending school? Will sacred threads too be banned? And what if brothers flaunt their rakhis on the day of the festival, tied so lovingly on their wrists by their sisters?

And what about parents and guardians? Will they be allowed to participate in teacher-parents meetings wearing a burqa, a skull cap or a turban?

The example of France is too far-fetched. Barring fanatically defending the Rafael deal, the fanatics or their mentors in the Sangh Parivar are clueless about anything that is French, including its early 20th century staunch secularism, if not the narratives of the heady French revolution which inspired the world, the Paris commune run by the communists and anarchists, and an entrenched value system derived from fraternity, equality and liberty. Surely, they have no clue about its literature, art, architecture and culture, its cinema and music, and its great academic scholarship.

The French are fanatics about secularism, not communal polarisation, hate politics and xenophobia, which it hates compulsively. They only refuse to accept religious dresses in public institutions, including in schools, of all religions.  They do not discriminate. The French government allowed, for instance, Charlie Hebdo, to publish those extremely controversial cartoons, for which the newspaper, its journalists and cartoonists, had to pay a heavy and tragic price.

The Karnataka government would do well to learn a few lessons from the civil society and democratic government of New Zealand, including its police force. After 50 innocent people were massacred at two mosques in Christchurch, women wore headscarves all over the country, in solidarity with their fellow Muslim citizens. It was a heartwarming signature stamped across the faces of the women of New Zealand, including its Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who wore a headscarf too, and much earlier, as a leader of a secular nation where all communities are respected and are allowed to live with freedom and dignity. She was wearing a black scarf in solidarity, while meeting and hugging the mourning members of the Muslim community.

“I wanted to say: ‘We are with you, we want you to feel at home on your own streets, we love, support and respect you’,” a doctor in Auckland said. She was the inspiration behind the popular idea, reported Reuters in March 2019.

“Why am I wearing a headscarf today? Well, my primary reason was that if anybody else turns up waving a gun, I want to stand between him and anybody he might be pointing it at. And I don’t want him to be able to tell the difference, because there is no difference,” said Bell Sibly, in Christchurch.

Indeed, what became a celebrated image all over the world, a woman police officer on duty guarding the Christchurch cemetery, where the victims of the massacre were buried, held an automatic weapon, with a weapon in her hands, while wearing a headscarf.

Hijab or no hijab, it is the quest for humanity, enlightenment and pluralism which was celebrated in New Zealand by its people, its women across all communities, and its compassionate government. And that is how a civilized, pluralist and modern democracy should conduct itself. Not like what the Karnataka government is doing these days, targeting young school girls, with stars in their eyes, clutching onto their school bags, hounded and humiliated, denied their right to freedom and education. Indeed, and instead, they should celebrate them, as they do in those fake ads called ‘Beti Padhao…’

Pray, how much more fake can it get, really!