Wednesday, March 09, 2022

On coverings of face or head, and the cultural value of uniformity

A good school or college teaches students to see people for the good or harm they do rather than focus on their skin, surnames, hair or tiffin-boxes. No society can hope to emerge from the dark pit of ignorance if it refuses to allow experiments with appearance, habits, even cultural values. What is ignorance, after all, but not knowing? Knowledge comes from seeing, listening, recognising, interpreting. A mulish refusal to allow difference is rooted in an irrational fear of knowledge. If uniform rules lead to the denial of education, the best academic response is to discuss the role of uniformity as a cultural value.

That schools and colleges should refuse to accept a covered head is distressing. Even more distressing is their argument broken down: you are only acceptable if you show exactly as much skin or hair as we demand. This is as good as saying: you have no right to govern your own body. This is a dangerous idea to put into any institution, private or public, and especially dangerous for women if endorsed by the state and courts of law.

Those who use the ‘uniform’ argument to keep Muslims out of educational institutions have struck a double blow. The first blow lands on the rights of Muslim students while the second lands upon the hearts of Hindu students whose capacity for critical thought and solidarity is being squeeze-shrunk out of them. They are being taught that it is okay to reject someone based on their appearance, that it is okay to bully or hate those who are different. Worse, it pushes forward the idea that cultural identities are fixed and citizens have no right to multiple or overlapping identities.

There have been some mal-intentioned arguments on social media, based on pictures of girls with and without the hijab, seeming to make the argument that if a girl can show her hair in one location, among one set of people, she has no right to cover herself in another location. The dangers of this argument are so great, and so obvious, that I am amazed at how little pushback there has been from women’s groups across the country.

Some thoughts triggered by hostile reactions to masks and to hijabs in recent weeks. Read the full article here: 


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