Dear comrades, friends and well-wishers,
Just how do you look at the unprecedented medley of shocking incidents taking place around you every day in this country? Do you regard them as a series of disparate confusing and confused assaults upon your consciousness which merely reduce your known world into chaos? Let me tell you that whatever the range of my individual experience, it tells me that there is a method in this madness. Powerful agencies are creating these nightmares for us which are actually not unconnected with one another and the objective situation particularly in the ‘Covid Era’ is being used by these political forces to strengthen their hegemonic grasp over us. It is for us to discover these connections if we are to free ourselves from this thraldom.
Take, for example, the weird and violent situation unfolding in Karnataka over the last month or so on the so-called ‘Hijab issue’. Perhaps you are looking at it as a problem of that state; maybe in your pride over your own secular credentials, you are thinking such things are bound to happen where BJP is in power and all we have to do is to do our best to reduce its electoral strength wherever we may be. Surely this latter is an important concern of all right-minded people, but is it enough? An electoral battle is going on in Uttar Pradesh and in other states. Mobilising Hindu votes for electoral gain in such states is no doubt a desperate concern for the Modi-Shah-Yogi team. The only way they can think of doing this is through open communal campaign and it has to be instigated all over the country at this moment through whatever issue can be used to spark it off. As it has been aptly put: ‘Biriyani for UP is being cooked in Karnataka’.
But we should not stop here in understanding the sequence of events. That would make it a temporary concern that would come to an end with the elections.
Even among people with secular credentials, do we not find the lurking saving clause that ‘after all, the hijab (a head cover) is an issue for Muslim girl students only! We have to support them against RSS hoolignism of course, but it does not directly concern the entire student community!’ There is no doubt that the Muslim community is a special target of attack today, but let us not forget that this particular attack comes at a time when another series of changes are being enforced upon us through laws and policies as well as through direct and indirect violations of our Constitution.
It seems to me that the ugly chain of incidents erupting in Udipi are indirectly but integrally linked also with various other initiatives. It has invisible links for instance with the exclusionist thrust of the New Education Policy of 2020 which has been shown to have vicious surprises in store for previously marginalised groups of students seeking their due place in the arena of education. Dalits, adivasis and the poor, particularly the girls among them, are in the process of being pushed out, the same thing is happening to Muslim girls in Karnataka using the hijab as excuse. Undemocratic educational governance is a cornerstone of NEP 2020. It allows the rule of regressive political forces on the campus and that is just what we find in Karnataka today, it is not just an issue for Muslim girls.
In fact, to my mind, the Udipi issue has underground connections also with all the insidious moves that are being rehearsed at various stages and in various modes in the legal arena to raise the age of marriage, to introduce anti-conversion laws, and yes, to enforce what RSS-BJP understands by ‘common civil code’. They are not just targeting the Muslim community, but imposing arbitrarily regressive laws against the independence of the entire younger generation to develop critical intelligence, to choose their life-partners and to live free and dignified lives of their own.
It is not that all this is part of a conscious concerted conspiracy. All that it shows is the desperate groping in the dark of the BJP-RSS to wield their authority to the full. But unless we understand the ‘hijab-issue’ in relation to the totality of its direct and indirect social-political connections, we cannot extract our victory from their desperation.
Malini Bhattacharya, President, All India Democratic Women’s Association