The Karnataka High Court’s interim ruling on 10th February 2022 banning all students “regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls, scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom” is eerily reminiscent of a law that changed the ethos of secularism in another democracy almost 20 years ago.
In 2004, the ‘Principle of Secularity’ was implemented across France, which banned all ‘ostentatious’ religious symbols in state schools. This, incidentally, came after a few teachers voiced opposition to girls wearing a hijab in their classroom. It institutionalized what the French call as Laïcité, or a form of secularism wherein citizens are expected to be uniform in their public life, as far as religiosity goes. The intent was to treat every citizen in exactly the same way – which may sound palatable, but less so when you realise how this ‘equality’ cloaks majoritarian notions of identity.
What continues today as Laïcité in France is a larger linguistic and religious project of French-speaking republican Catholicism that cannot be replicated in India. Even if it is attempted, it would necessitate stripping individuals of their community identity, which is a dangerous thing to do. This week, we bring to you the larger implications of this Hijab row, and the context it is embedded within, featuring Warisha Farasat, a lawyer, and one of the representatives for the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in the Triple Talaq case, and Professor Rajeev Bhargava, a scholar of secularism.
Interviews by Chirag Chinnappa and Vibha Nadig; edited by Manasi Nene; voiceover by Divina Ann Philipose.