A Veil of Equality and Patriarchy: Hijab Controversy in Karnataka

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

During the controversy involving the hijab in educational institutions of Karnataka in February 2022, two short articles—one, From the Editor’s Desk and  second, a comment by  Sundar Sarrukai— were published in the 12 February  2022 issue of  EPW. In “Educational Institutions: For Domination or Distinction?” the editor of EPW, Gopal Guru, emphasised that the controversy is an outcome of the lingering threat to the modernist thrust of educational institutions in the country, which rests on the nature of inclusivity and diversity in the space of an educational institution. By targeting the non- uniformity in the dress code influenced by the religion of the minorities, the controversy is projected to establish religious dominance in educational institutions.

The popular idea of a uniform dress code in an educational space symbolising equality is fundamental to this ongoing controversy.   Sarrukai challenges this idea in his comment article "Uniformity or Equality?" and associates the order of uniforms with spaces like the prison where a dress code is a symbol of authority and control , not equality. "Uniforms are another part of this disciplinary apparatus and punishment is a direct corollary of violating codes of uniform." writes Sarrukai. He further comments on the overall deterioration of the education system in the country as it moves further from equality and embraces means of non-uniformity through national exams for various courses as well as the growing material gaps between the private and public colleges and universities. Sarukkai measures the validity of the controversy for its determination to equality. He notes that equality in our education system in the form of equal opportunity and access to resources, infrastructure, and administration are far from ensured in the current education system as they function in authoritarian regimes. This comment triggered a response from Muzaffar Ali which was published in EPW a few months later.

In the article titled “Hijab, Patriarchy, and the Women’s Question,”   Ali argues that the uniforms uphold patriarchal order. By expressing his discomfort with Sarukkai’s conclusion that uniforms may be allowed along with other measures of equality “including intellectual practices such as critical discussions among students on ideas like equality, uniformity, and citizenship,” he points out that “apart from being an instrument of control and discipline, the uniform acts as an apparatus to enforce the gendered binary division within schools.” His interpretation of the motivation behind the controversy is that the saffron-clad boys are attempting to replace the hijab with their own patriarchal dictate behind the farce of equality and empowerment. The gendered binary division that children are subjected to, is cultivated by uniforms in school. Therefore, it is not surprising that the uniform becomes a tool to intimidate women from minority groups as the gender binaries already established by school uniforms in school feed into the patriarchal impulses of the pro-hijab-ban commentators. It becomes easier to infiltrate the religious divide by harnessing the gendered binary permeated by the uniform dress code in order to homogenise patriarchal order and control women’s choices. The politically motivated boys on the mission to wipe out the hijab from the premises of the educational institutions are not doing so to establish equality but to establish a patriarchal order dictated by the Hindu man instead of the Muslim man.

A few other articles related to this discussion:

  1. Conservative Framing of the Hijab Issue and the Muslim Women’s Movement, Razia Patel, 2022

  2. Is the Essential Practices Test Actually Essential?, Dewesh Kumar Vinod, 2022

  3. W(h)ither Karnataka?, V K Natraj, 2022

  4. Why Is the Veil Such a Contentious Issue?, Imtiaz Ahmed, 2006


To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“Women and the Hijab”


Curated by akankshya [akankshya@epw.in]


Must Read

Do water policies recognise the differential requirements and usages of water by women and the importance of adequate availability and accessibility?
Personal Laws in India present a situation where abolishing them in the interest of gender justice also inadvertently benefits the reactionary side.   
Back to Top