Friday, August 21, 2009

The Burqa War

MANGALORE: The Sri Venkatarama Swamy (SVS) College in Bantwal has restricted a first year BCom student from attending the class till she conforms to the regulations of the college, which is not to display her religious identity, the headscarf. (Times of India)

This is a very sad development indeed. After all, this is not France or Australia or Canada but secular India where the citizens have come to take in their stride the differences in the attire of those belonging to various religious communities.

Don’t students belonging to all communities display symbols of religious identity? What about the Bindi? Or the scapular or the rosary? Why single out the head scarf or the Burqa alone?

There was a time in India when Christians (in Kerala) went to school/college in mundu and chatta, Hindus in their set mundu and Muslims with their headscarf. For these students who came to acquire learning, these differences in the dress were no issue. They represented the plurality that was our pride. How much India has moved away from this situation!

The saddest aspect of this event is that the protests originated from the students, the clearest of indications that the citizens of tomorrow have their minds poisoned by communalism.

The first on the list of priorities of an educational institution in a pluralistic society like India’s is to inculcate secular values – like respect for other religions which includes tolerance and acceptance of religious markers. An institution that tries to throw a wedge between communities is unfit to be in the field of education, where religious tolerance, harmonious existence, respect for other religions and respect for differences should be held up as the highest values of civilization.

It is significant that this is happening in Karnataka, a state ruled by the BJP. Funny, how the party has not learnt its lessons after the drubbing it got at the hustings. The party can start packing up its bags in Karnataka after its shameful sexist and communal track record. The assault on women by lumpen elements of the communal outfits that mushroom and flourish under the BJP umbrella and the unofficial fatwa issued against people from the majority community who interact with the minority, are events which are still green in the minds of the electorate.

It becomes exceedingly difficult to understand this regressive movement in India which facilitated the rise of a communal party, all the way to New Delhi. The anti Muslim posture of the party – is it a political necessity or a genuinely ideological position? Or is it a type of fascism that infects the narrow mind which draws its identity from a narrow cultural and religious context? Or a combination of all these? Academia is replete with attempts to locate the issue in the historical site but speculations have given rise to theories and theories without credible answers.


Is it a reaction to globalization inherent in which is the possibility of eventual loss of identities of religious groups? Like the last convulsions of a dying animal? Can the religious activism across the world- of all religions- be explained in these terms?

Can’t help thinking about John Lenon’s Imagine.

Back to the issue. the brainstorming of the BJP which just concluded in Simla is causing anxious tremors among the peace loving citizens of this country. Fascist voices are drowning those of the moderates in the party. Political strategies are being spelt out to regain power from where the party can position itself to launch assault on differences.


Below is given the rest of the news item from TOI.

The student Aysha Asmin, after objections from saffron-leaning students, was told by the college management not to wear the headscarf, which she started wearing after the college had prevented her from wearing the burqa.

Aysha has not been attending the classes from past 12 days. Trouble started after the college elections. She alleged that college president Bharath started heckling her for wearing a scarf saying that they too would come wearing a saffron scarf.

"He was taken aback when I said I don't mind. I don't even mind wearing a saffron scarf", Aysha told TOI. After this, harassment continued, but Aysha was stoic till it reached a flash point when the principal told her not to attend classes.

Aysha's father clarifies that he admitted his daughter to the college only after clarifying that there would be no issue for wearing a burqa in the college with a lecturer.


  1. "The saddest aspect of this event is that the protests originated from the students, the clearest of indications that the citizens of tomorrow have their minds poisoned by communalism."

    I cannot agree with you more. The flames of hatred are being fanned by us - the seniors - in all communities and the younger generation, instead of thinking independently and ignoring such calls, latches on to such unworthy causes, bringing the society to the brink of a divide.

  2. This is not just sad it's scary. I have nothing in favour of wearing a burqua, but banning it no better than enforcing it.

    I have been watching the news of the Chintan Baithak... will not be surprised if they decide communalism works much better than develpepment and peace :(

  3. Teacher,
    The same pluralistic ideals that we are proud of as a nation, shakes the basic foundation of the secular republic in someway or the other(by such instances).

    When you think of it, we are much much better than a France that takes pride in its multi ethnicity on one hand while officially scorns the same diversity.


  4. Stupider and stupider...!

    The Jews that became Christians used to be dressed like our Catholic nuns and priests who have imitated the Jew costumes. It is unfortunate that Christianity did not make it a dress-code here for all believers.

    Nevertheless, if you wear Bindi (and Saree) in our North Eastern states in this the second half-century of our Republic, you get killed.

  5. What you have mentioned is also one of my worst fears..

    "The saddest aspect of this event is that the protests originated from the students, the clearest of indications that the citizens of tomorrow have their minds poisoned by communalism."

    It's unbelievable that gen next with all their global exposure behaves in such narrow minded ways.
    Hope and pray that this is a one-off incident and not the general trend amongst youngsters.

  6. Good post. I share your concerns. In the 60s 70s and early 80s campuses were bee hive of progressive political activities. Now they are centers of divisive political activity using the mask of religion. Most of the privately owned educational Institutions are owned by religious groups and they ban progressive activities inside the campus in the name of banning politics . Thus campuses has become fertile field for communalism and a recruiting ground for future hate speakers . Blogo sphere also reflects the communalism seen the campuses Mangalore can become the epi center of a large scale communal riot in India

  7. Are you implying that France of the french revolution, France of the centuries old French republic with the slogan "liberty, fraternity etcetera", is not as democratic as India?

  8. Great write-up KPJ.

    I think the BJP is steadily losing relevence. Their agendas get lamer and lamer by the day.

    You are right, when they say no "religious symbol" they actually mean "no islamic symbol"


    The BJP claimed in a recent news report i saw that "india wants a bi-polar polity and we will continue under the leadership of Advani ji"

    (of course they would love to follow Narendra Modi - but thankfully our democracy is still functioning that wnt work)

    The BJP is so passe! :)

  9. @ pooja nair
    agree with you.
    the only sad thing about the decline of the BJP is the weakening of the opposition.
    i am talking of france of today which is trying everytrick to ban purdah
    'they ban progressive activities inside the campus in the name of banning politics'
    progressive activities like what? can you please explain? just for my information.
    @ deepak
    i too hope and pray it's a one off incident - but i have an ominous feeling that me we'll have more of such things
    'if you wear Bindi (and Saree) in our North Eastern states in this the second half-century of our Republic, you get killed.
    really? wasnt aware of this.
    @ nikhil narayan
    and france does it in the name of human/women's rights!
    @ Indian homemaker
    i too have my reservations about burqa - but a lot of women have said that they have found freedom it it!
    anyway, likes and dislikes are no reason to ban . the entire populationn cannot be expected to wear the same outfit
    yes. it is a scary situation. i have had a few shocks discussing secularism with youngsters.things have changed so much since our time

  10. I am one of those nonsecular youngsters.

    I abhor the Islamic extremism. Burqa, 71 virgins in heaven for martyrs, 4 wives, unlimited number of sexual slaves(male or female), use of eunuchs, harsh treatment to non-arabs, draconian laws, the irritating beard, noisy music, over-importance given to trading, oh I could go on about the evils.

    What I do not understand is why everyone is so keen on defending this bullshit. A spade is a spade. Give us a break. Islam should be moved out of the way. The time is long overdue.

  11. For Anonymous,

    You have very smoothly shifted the subject from "removing burqas" to "moving islam out of the way"

    I rest my case. Thank you.

    PS: "a spade is a spade" seems to be a popular phrase amongst you Islam bashers. Have seen it being used repeatedly by you guys...Some sort of code word - is it?

  12. Another one for Anonymous,

    1) The beard?
    2) Noicy music?
    3) Over-importance to trading?

    Either you re-consider your opinion or re-work on this list of "evils".

  13. Oh well, all I said is that Islam is outdated. What can anyone say if you want to keep up outdated practices? Suit yourself. Buy a plot in your city and build a constricted nalukett. Hire servants and ask them to carry you around in palanquins.

  14. Pooja, you seem to be silent on issues like sex slaves, child molestation, 71(or 72?) virgins in heaven, etc..

    The beard of Islamic extremists is not aesthetic at all. I must admit that Osama looks rather stylish; but in general it is not the case. The islamic music such as Qawwali uses an unlimited number of people and instruments without much in the way of volume gradation. In spite of all its beauty, it has a feeling of clamour and collective cacophony. Now, about trading. What I mean is that they more or less completely neglect higher learning, scientific pursuits etc., due to the stress on trading. This is not only in India. Up to much farther west in Turkey, this is true. This over-stressing of trading as a mode of living stifles progress.

    Oh, there are some things you have to think by yourself and understand. No amount of explaining is going to help. You have to get out and see what is going on. I wish good luck to all of you. Wear burqas, and discuss freedom. All the best. Have a nice time.

  15. Anonymous, don't expect logic when you are talking to Pooja - you won't get it (With due apologies to KPJ if this turns to a flame war, but pooja deserves it).

    Pooja had put this comment for this post (
    >> if we threaten the minority, because they are outnumbered, they are bound to resort to extreme means to feel secure...

    That is simply justifying terrorism.

    And in this post ( she writes
    >> What about peaceful demonstrations? What about giving up on a 'separate eelam' and focus on 'equal rights, opportunity and prosperity of the Tamils'

    what beautiful logic. If only we could apply this everywhere...
    So, in short, Pooja's turns her theory upside down according to her convenience.

    BTW Anony brother(/sister), I don't fully agree with you. I am against moving Islam out of the way. But definitely against incredibly stupid practices in Islam(or any ) religion. Like, they fight for their right to wear burqa, what about right to not wear burqa in Saudi Arabia? And what about the basic right of non-islamic people to have food in the holy month of Ramadan.

  16. Islam might have been good at one point of time. I would not be able to forgive myself if I do not stress all the good it did at one point of time. However time is moving forward and modernization is needed. The 8th century philosophy is difficult to maintain after all the changes. At one point of time for a tribe of people it might be advantageous to slaughter all the infidels in the name of the supreme God. Yet at another time such a policy would be extremely disavantageous. Nowadays it is the latter sort of time in general, for civilization. Also all the notions of humanity are against killing another another human being.

    Here, lest I sound like anti-Islam, I add that I am influenced by Victor Hugo's admonitions in "Les Miserables" against extreme asceticism prevailing in Catholic monasteries. He pretty much used the same arguments of anachronism to argue for alleviating the suffering of nuns. KPJ, the modern France listened to those admonitions and acted. Modern france no longer maintains those absurdities in Christianity with vigor. Catholic France is opposing the burqa only after dealing with its own similar problems. France achieved liberty etc., with hard effort and bloodshed. Now France has the Arab guests in its land, and France likes to insist that these newcomers also elevate themselves to the level of social progress Frenchmen achieved after centuries of struggle. But, no, the retrograde Islamics don't want that. They hang on to "religious freedom" and all that nonsense, and terrorise the capital of France and indulge in vandalism. If they acted out the same vandalism in their home country, they would have been subjected to lashing every day in prison, and full reparations would have been made from them.

  17. Looks like one finds more centrists/moderates/liberals among women!

    @ anonymous
    i think u should separate Islam from the practitioners of that religion when u make such strong statements. There are two types of practitioners. 1. those who believe that like all religions, Islam also should lend itself to newer interpretations in keeping with the changing times 2.those who believe that it is blasphemous to interpret the teachings of the holy book vis a vis the changing times.
    the moderates in india fall into the 1st category.
    i think it is not fair to forget this difference when we use such vehement lamguage.

  18. Anonymous, I agree with your view abt Islam being progressive in its early period. Also what you said abt French Revolution. The main theme of French revolution was liberty social equality and democracy. Dont you think banning an attire is against individual liberty which was won with so much blood shed ?

  19. Hi Abhilash,

    An opinion different from yours is likely to be viewed as illogical by you.

    I find you and Anon illogical, you find me illogical. :)

    Thats natural.


    These practices are not unique to any specific religion. Hence, I don't stand for a crusade against a specific religion. (a point where abhilash and me miraculously agree!)

  20. Charakan : The French revolution abolished sundays as holidays and nationalized the church properties. It took up arms against the church and its practices, which was stifling personal liberty. In the same spirit France can take on Burqa. There is no contradiction here. But on the other hand speaking of freedom after living inside the black prison of a burqa is a contradiction.

    All religions irk me; but there is something particularly irksome about Islam. That religion seems just a bit too incorrigible. It makes me bothered enough to deserve special attention.

    There is no difference between the religion and its practitioners when you oppose it. Islam is not an abstract entity up in the air. It is the way of life of a million lot of people. It is their way of life that needs to be changed. They may not be willing to change it, and then it becomes a problem. The underlying ideology in Quran needs to be washed away. It is shocking that militants can still be motivated with the promise of 71 virgins in heaven. The fundamental philosophy and attitude behind this clamorous and barbarian culture must go. That is all I said. I didn't ask you to take up guns murder all Arabs, and I didn't promise you with the holy Jannat and all its pleasures if you do it.

  21. All religions are stupid, of course. They are merely control systems through guilt and penalty. If 'God'(!) meant us to be free, religions block 'His' designs.


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