This morning I woke up to a strange kind of news. Strange because I had never expected any such move in India. A college in Mangalore named St. Aloysius Pre-graduate College has banned girls from wearing Burqa in the classrooms. Now, this is not something new to European countries like France or Belgium. But in India where political parties bend over backwards to appease the different religious groups, I am baffled by this decision by a minority (Christian) institution. I mean, don’t they fear a backlash?
But what is the reason to ban Burqa in college. It is the right of women to dress in whatever way she likes. If you are going to ban it then you should also ban the crucifixes, Tilak (Hindus) and Turbans (Sikhs). Why should an institution ban only the religious symbol of one particular community? This is not justice? This is not a secular system, this is tyranny against minority. And what harm does a Burqa do in the classroom. Yes! It separates a girl from her peers, it makes it difficult for the teacher to communicate with her Burqa clad student and it inculcates an idea of shame in the mind of the girl. But please tell me, how does wearing a Burqa without a face veil interferes in the education of a college student? Also issuing a diktat to specifically ban it rather than giving a general advice to discourage it is a pretty bad idea. It is subversive to democracy and the rights of women.
Now, one can say that if it is okay for a secular nation like France to ban religious symbols in school then why India shouldn’t do the same? Well, you see, the Indian secular system is based on the idea of religious pluralism and tolerance. It is totally different in the west where secularism means the separation of church and state. It means that the governments in west should try to distance religion and religious symbols from public institutions which also includes schools and colleges. In India, the government must not interfere in either promoting or demoting any religion from the public sphere. So, how can it ban college students from wearing their religious symbols?
Now as per me, Indian secular system is nothing but a farce. In this drama of showing religious tolerance, our society has come to face a large number of problems related to communalism. Showing religious tolerance towards everyone and wasting the tax money of common people for the irrational faiths of religious people are two different things; for example by providing subsidies for Muslims on Hajj and Hindus for Amarnath Pilgrimage. The money that should had been better used to build schools or in medical research is wasted to satisfy the egos of religious people. Politicians use religion to divide people.
And anyways, isn’t government favoring the people of a particular religion when reservation is given to the (so-called) lower castes of Hinduism? The reservation system in India is the largest affirmative action that any democratic government has ever taken. It was meant for the socially and economically backward Hindu castes that had been suppressed from the last many centuries. Now, people of other castes sometimes block roads and burn buses to coerce the government to even add them in the list of backward classes. Why? Just in order to benefit from the reservation system.
So, we can understand from the above points that although the Indian secularism doesn’t allows the government to take sides with any religion, there are other provisions in the constitution with which the same government can override the secular nature of the constitution and do some favors (here and there) to some religious groups. That is what I call loopholes in the system, large enough to allow any corrupt politician to jump inside the parliament and sabotage the base on which our democracy stands.
We were talking about religious symbols in schools and colleges. Let us first be clear about the issue. There is a difference between a 12 year old girl wearing Burqa in school and a 19 year old girl doing the same. A 12 year old girl is not considered mature enough to be called an adult and the government does ban her from doing certain things. Like, she can’t go to watch an adult movie, she can’t smoke or drink, and she can’t choose her own government or marry the boy she loves. Therefore, we agree that with the consensus of the majority (Democracy) and the sanction of the legal system, law enforcement can actually bar a 12 year old girl or boy to do certain things. We do not talk about the violations of his/her rights at that time.
A person below the age of 18 cannot vote in the elections. So that person is not participating actively in the selection of his government. At such stage, it can be argued that the state acts as a guardian to those people. It can and should do what it sees best for the healthy physical and mental growth of a child. Children as human beings do have rights, like right to dignity, education and health. But it is the general nature of things in the society that it is the parents who teach their religious beliefs to their children. If children are not considered mature enough to decide the answer for the type of government they want, how can they be considered mature enough to decide the answer for what kind of religion they want? So, all in all, a boy wearing a Sikh turban in his school is not expressing his belief but is only expressing the belief of his parents in the school. Therefore in this case, children are used by their parents as a tool to express their own personal beliefs. Government can censor such actions.
Also, when a child is labeled as a Hindu or Muslim, the parents and the society are forcing their own belief on the child. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if a father shoves his political beliefs on his child, like a Conservative father calling his son a conservative? Afterall, the child doesn’t understand the difference between the varying political or economic ideologies. So how can we think that he understands the difference between different religious ideologies?
Religious symbols demarcate children from the children of other religions. It can cause segregation in the class. It can cause children to see differences among each other and hinder in their proper assimilation with the society.
Think about a child in fifth standard. His mother makes him wear a crucifix to school. He would ask her this question, ‘’what is this, Ma’’? She will tell her that he is a Christian and he follows Jesus for his salvation. He goes to the class and looks at the other children. No one besides him is wearing the crucifix. ‘’So, Ma, is nobody a Christian in my class”, the child will ask. You see how the first brick of separation is laid in the mind of that child, right at that tender age when he should be seeing similarities with other children. Now, let’s look at a different case. Nobody in the class is allowed to wear any religious symbol. The child is though taught religion at his home, but at school he thinks that perhaps everyone is same or everyone follows the same thing or everyone will be saved. No bricks of separation. No child in his class is continuously barraged by the religious symbols of others. Isn’t that neat?
So, in the end, I will argue that it is good for the government to ban religious symbols in school. But in college, unless we can have some good points to ban any specific or all religious symbols, the government should not interfere with the rights of the adults.