When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Two Hijab Cases Highlight The True Nature Of Muslim Discrimination In India

Two different cases of hijab controversies in India show there is one thing that is consistent, which is to impose on people at the margins an idea of "uniformity."

Photograph of a girl during a student protest in India for allegedly not allowing them to wear abayas in school.

June 8, 2023, Srinagar, India: Students staged a protest against school authority for allegedly not allowing them to wear abayas in school.

Mubashir Hassan/ZUMA
Nabeela Jamil


NEW DELHI — It is tiring to chart out the "discriminations" every now and then. One more death. One more humiliation. A child slapped for being born a Muslim. A poster asking people to leave a slum for their religious identity. What is scary is you slap three more children for the same reason and the reports will start shrinking in the newspapers. Readers will start getting "bored." The normalcy will prevail. The blindness shall take over.

One such news that has become a story long gone is the hijab "controversy" of Karnataka. I repeat it in a line since I feel it is my duty to repeat it, but not more than a line perhaps, may bore the readers otherwise.

So, here we go: There were teenage girls in Karnataka who were stopped from getting an education in a government institution for wearing an extra piece of cloth — the hijab. The restriction was challenged. The matter traveled from a single-judge bench to a full bench of the state’s high court.

How come uniforms be inclusive? How can religious symbols be allowed in schools? Was asked by the court. The matter came before the highest court of the land — the sentinel on the qui vive, as it calls itself. Eleven days of passionate arguments and a split verdict came. The matter awaits its listing after almost a year from the judgment. Even after the change in the state government, on the ground, the government order (GO) that cemented the controversy stands. The agony of the Muslim girls in Karnataka continues.

Photograph of Two Kashmiri female students and Muslim women wearing 'Hijab' on their walk back from school.

Kashmiri female students wearing a 'Hijab' walk after attending their college in Srinagar, India.

Mubashir Hassan/ZUMA

A different case in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh

Fast forward to this year, another Indian state, this time a private minority institution, again the issue of uniform and hijabhttps://worldcrunch.com/world-affairs/iran-hijab-protest. The court order, interestingly, but unsurprisingly, is vastly different. The order records the prosecution story of how a private minority institution in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh, has a uniform of shalwar-qameez and hijab for girls students, and non-Muslim students are not being allowed to put tilak and tie kalawa. Urdu is being taught as a compulsory subject.

The parents of non-Muslim students denied claims of religious symbols being forced on their children. Be that as it may, the news spread like wildfire. The initial probe cleared the school from allegations of forcing Hindu students to wear hijab. A fresh probe was ordered by the home minister of the state. The state government promptly suspended the license of the private school.

The chief minister of the state publicly warned that any institution following in the footsteps of the Damoh school should not be allowed to run. The chief minister also registered his protest against “teaching poetry of a man who talked about the division of the country” (Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, the writer of Sare Jahan se Acha and Lab pe aati hai dua). A first information report (FIR) under Sections 295A, 506, and 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was registered. Provisions under the Juvenile Justice Act and Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 alleging forced conversion of Hindu students were also invoked. Three people including the principal were arrested.

In typical ‘new India’ fashion, parts of the school, the only English medium school in the area catering to around 1,200 students from modest backgrounds, were also demolished. Last month, applicants, the principal along with the other two arrested, approached the Madhya Pradesh high court for bail. The high court granted bail while imposing certain conditions to be strictly followed by the applicants.

The Damoh story is an Indian story.

The MP high court directed the applicants to not prevent non-Muslim students from "wearing the essentials of their own religion as such wearing a sacred thread (kalawa) and putting tilak on the forehead." The court, recording the argument of the state that non-Muslim students cannot be compelled to read Urdu, further directed the applicants to not compel the non-Muslim students to read/study any language which has not been prescribed by the state’s education board and impart only "modern education."

The high court accepting this submission can be criticized on several grounds, one among them is the fact that Urdu, in fact, is a recognized language under the Board of Secondary Education (Madhya Pradesh) Regulations, 1965. Lastly, the applicants were strictly directed that "girl students of other religion i.e. Hindu and Jain etc. shall not be compelled to wear head scarf (Hijaab) anywhere in the school premises or in the classrooms."

In the hijab matter before the Karnataka high court, the government order dated February 5, 2022, upheld by the court, reads that where the uniform in question is that of a private school, the uniform shall be decided upon by the school management. This reading of the GO was accepted by the Supreme Court in its judgment by both Justice Gupta and Justice Dhulia, with one upholding the GO and the other quashing it.

Photograph of an activist holding up a poster that reads "hijab is our right", during a protest against the hijab ban in schools and colleges of Karnataka state.

February 9, 2022, New Delhi: An activist hold placards as they take part in a march against the hijab ban in schools.

Mohsin Javed/ZUMA

Double standards

One more case that requires a mention here is from Kerala. In 2018, when Muslim girls approached the Kerala high court against not being allowed to wear a hijab in a Christian minority institution, the court was of the opinion that the “community rights of a minority institution override the individual rights of students.” In the hijab matter, the Karnataka high court, while distinguishing the judgment on facts, recorded agreement with the ratio of this Kerala high court judgment. It is relevant to mention here that the Damoh School is a private minority institution and the uniform was prescribed by the school management.

In Karnataka, the latter part of 2021 and 2022 witnessed strong protests by young Muslim women and the Muslim community at large against the restriction on hijab. With the state government and judiciary supporting the restriction, the state of Karnataka witnessed a steep dropout rate of Muslim women from government institutions and pre-university colleges. Those who could afford, opted for private institutions to continue their studies, others vanished from the face of educational statistics.

What remained floating was one of the reasons for such a prohibition: the idea of uniformity. The exclusion of religious symbols from educational institutions. This reasoning was even bought by some of our liberal allies. This very "reasoning" falls flat with the Damoh case. The series of incidents, the employment of all judicial and extrajudicial methods to create a precedent against the school in Damoh, and the subsequent conditions imposed through the bail order, only reinforce what has been argued for long by those who are direct victims of this identity attack.

In all the discrepancies between the stories from Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, there is one lesson that is consistent: a "Hindu" must not be prevented from wearing a kalawa or putting a tilak. A "Hindu" must not be told what to wear. We do not want it for "our people." We cannot be told not to follow "our faith" in “our country”. The disgust towards a language that is regarded as Muslim. This is what it is. This is what it has always been. The Damoh story is an Indian story. It is another testament of something overt that the people at the margins always knew. It is either our blindness or our cowardice to not see the obvious.

*Nabeela Jamil is a Delhi-based lawyer. She assisted on the Hijab matter from the Petitioner’s side before the Supreme Court of India.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

food / travel

When Racism Poisons Italy's Culinary Scene

This is the case of chef Mareme Cisse, a black woman, who was called a slur after a couple found out that she was the one who would be preparing their meal.

Photo of Mareme Cisse cooking

Mareme Cisse in the kitchen of Ginger People&Food

Caterina Suffici


TURIN — Guess who's not coming to dinner. It seems like a scene from the American Deep South during the decades of segregation. But this happened in Italy, in this summer of 2023.

Two Italians, in their sixties, got up from the restaurant table and left (without saying goodbye, as the owner points out), when they declared that they didn't want to eat in a restaurant where the chef was what they called: an 'n-word.'

Racists, poor things. And ignorant, in the sense of not knowing basic facts. They don't realize that we are all made of mixtures, come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. And that food, of course, are blends of different ingredients and recipes.

The restaurant is called Ginger People&Food, and these visitors from out of town probably didn't understand that either.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest