ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hijab, Patriarchy, and the Women’s Question

A Reply to Sundar Sarukkai

In a reply to contemporary philosopher Sundar Sarukkai’s argument editorial comment, “Uniformity or Equality?” (EPW, 12 February 2022) that school uniforms symbolise disciplinary order, this article argues that school uniforms, at the same time, uphold the essential patriarchal order. It extends the argument by underlining that the hijab controversy can be read as a call to seek a shift within the prevalent patriarchal order to instal a more overarching and homogenising one in its place .

Patriarchy has no gender,” said the famed feminist bell hooks (2010: 170). What needs to be added, however, is that it has no religion as well. Nothing under the sun can help understand it better than the controversy that involves seeking a ban on the hijab in the educational institutions of Karnataka. Hindu men wearing saffron shawls want the hijab (a Muslim practice) banned from schools and colleges. A lot has been written and debated upon the raison d’être of hijab or no hijab in the Indian educational institutes. Much of the debate focuses on the political aspects and centres around the notions of equality, social justice, secularism, religious tolerance, and other related liberal concepts. Sundar Sarukkai’s editorial comment titled “Uniformity or Equality?” (EPW, 12 February 2022) underlines the fact that school uniforms are a cosmetic exercise to offer a semblance of equality between students.

In reality, uniform symbolises order and is a tool of disciplinary tactics to command control in favour of the aut­horities concerned. He concludes that uniforms can be a compulsory part of the school system, provided other measures of equality are given space within the Indian pedagogical enterprise. In my opinion, the critique of school uniforms as an apparatus of control and allowing uniforms along with other measures of equality do not gel together. In no way does the inclusion of egalitarian measures mitigate the symbolism of order, discipline, and control that uniforms stand for. I argue that Sarukkai makes an oversight as he is concerned about the tangible and visible forms of ine­quality that a school uniform alone cannot address. So, an addition of egali­tarian measures “including intellectual practices such as critical discussions among students on ideas like equality, uniformity, and citizenship” (p 8) can help at least resolve (or dissolve) the problem. Sarukkai is not ready to engage with the indispensable patriarchal order that school uniforms enforce. Apart from being an instrument of control and discipline, the uniform acts as an apparatus to enforce the gendered binary division within schools. Quite interestingly, as the uniform symbolises authoritative control of the school or college authorities—and even state—it simultaneously compels us to overlook the patriarchal order that children in the uniform are being subjected to. Sarukkai deals with the former but leaves the latter untouched. In what follows, I argue that an emphasis on the patriarchal ­order perpetuated through school uniforms provides a different perspective to study and analyse the hijab controversy.

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Updated On : 28th Nov, 2022
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