In India, Muslim women are at the center of a controversy involving hijabs. Right-wing politicians are using the garb of secularism to interfere in their lives and prevent them from wearing the hijab. The first target has been Indian school students who have been barred from getting an education only because they wear hijabs. Let’s look at why this issue has caused fractures in a religiously diverse country.
The Hijab Ban Controversy
Earlier this year, a row erupted in the southern state of Karnataka. In a district called Udupi, schools started to bar students who wore a hijab from entering the classroom. Later on, they were stopped from writing exams. This led to protests by the students and members of the Muslim community on the count that students were being deprived of their right to receive an education. In addition, it interfered with their religious freedoms.
On the other side, there were Hindutva activists who had decided to adopt a saffron shawl as their symbol. They led counter-protests that involved harassing and targeting Muslim students.
As the row deepened, the State Government started to impose restrictions on large gatherings. It passed other measures to maintain public order. However, the only effect of these measures was that efforts by the Muslim community and sympathizers to protest and organize were crippled. On the other hand, saffron elements still went about their business.
Despite multiple pleas by the Muslim community leaders and even the students themselves, the State government and the local administration refused to take any action. Aggrieved by the state of affairs, a writ petition was filed before the High Court in Karnataka. In India, a writ petition is filed by citizens when their lives are impacted by laws or regulations.
Before the High Court, the argument was made that the hijab was worn by Muslim women to maintain modesty, and it was mandated by their faith. In addition, the government couldn’t impair a student’s right to receive an education by barring them from the classroom.
In a strange judgment, the Karnataka High Court came to the conclusion that wearing a hijab was not an essential practice in Islam. So it didn’t interfere with the hijab ban.
What Is Indian Secularism?
So, India is not a country like France where the concept of strict secularism is practised. India follows the principle of positive secularism, which includes the freedom to practice one’s religion. It cannot be compared with France, which is a country where all religious symbols are banned. In addition, France has the concept of a strict separation between the church (read religion) and state. India, on the other hand, recognizes the fact that religion is an integral part of a citizen’s life and allows them to wear and display religious symbols. One example would be how Sikhs wear their turbans, and the state has no issue with it. So in the context of Indian secularism, the Hijab ban is troubling.
Also Read: Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women
Kavita Krishnan, who is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association stated in an interview that “The attack on the hijab is a political attempt to replace India’s plurality with Hindu-supremacist uniformity. That is why it is so disturbing that the Karnataka High Court judgment has invoked uniformity as one of the reasons for upholding the decision of colleges to disallow hijabs.”
What Is The Essential Religious Practice Test?
So the reason the Karnataka High Court refused to interfere with the State Government’s actions was that it found that wearing the hijab was not an essential part of Islam. This analysis is questionable. Religion is not solely defined by what is codified in scriptures or holy books. There is more to it. It includes practices that are followed by the religious community. After all, it is up to the Muslim community to define what constitutes Islam.
Also Read: Islam in India: Then and Now!
In fact, the Supreme Court of India, in a previous judgment, opined that it could not be up to the Courts to take a call on what constitutes an essential practice of religion.
Let’s also consider another issue. Many states in India have laws that prohibit the slaughter of cattle and the sale of food items like beef. These legislations have been enacted keeping in mind the sensibilities and concerns of the Hindu community. Similarly, during Hindu religious festivals in many parts of India, the local administration passes orders banning the sale of poultry and meat.
Not The Same Rules For Everyone
From a neutral perspective, these prohibitions are unnecessary intrusions by the government into an Indian citizen’s life and diet. Restricting people from eating meat or poultry is not an essential practice of Hinduism. This is evident from the fact that many Hindu communities have historically consumed poultry and meat. Yet these prohibitions are the law of the land.
So the question remains – why doesn’t the government show a similar level of understanding to the concerns of the Muslim community. The agitation against the Hijab ban was led by a student who was affected by the ban. To her and other women involved, the hijab was an essential part of their religion and life.
In India, many Muslim women don’t wear the hijab, and there are others who wear it. In a democracy like India, one would have to look at the views of the community and then come to a conclusion as to what constitutes an essential practice of religion.
India is a multi-cultural democracy. There are parts of India that are conservative and liberal. The government has to consider and respect the religious sensibilities of the Muslim community, just like how the Hindu community’s wishes are respected. One also has to consider whether the cause of secularism had been advanced at all. Why does the government action under the garb of secularism only in terms of measures that affect the Muslim community? Why are decisions that are unpopular among Muslims vociferously defended by the government?
These are issues that are of deep importance to India. It could also mean that the idea of secularism is being distorted and used just to disadvantage Muslim women. What is even more concerning is the fact that BJP leaders have now made publicly stated that they would look for a complete ban on Hijabs throughout the country. At present, this important issue now lies before the Supreme Court, we can only wait and see which way the Supreme Court rules.
Delhi Air Pollution: 18 Million People at the Risk of Severe Health Problems
Delhi Air Pollution: Delhi, the capital of India, is one of the most polluted cities in the world. But winter is especially cruel here. Each year, October, November, and December bring together an exceptionally dirty environment, where over 18 million people are forced to live with a quilt of smog covering the capital and nearing cities.
2022 is nothing different. With the Air Pollution Index (API) at 337, the condition of Delhi’s environment is worsening.
The big question now is: what causes such disastrous air pollution in Delhi? What are the inferno reasons that pollute the air of entire northern India? And how are Delhites coping with the pollution?
An Overview of the Problem: Delhi Air Pollution
According to an India Today Web Desk article, Delhi has topped the list of the most polluted cities worldwide for the fourth consecutive year. The survey was initiated by SoGA, where the organization listed 20 polluted cities around the world in which Delhi ranked in the first position.
The air quality here in Delhi gets so bad in winter that the government needs to declare a public health emergency in response to exacerbating air pollution.
Like every year, the state government shut down schools, stalled all construction and industrial activities, and implemented an odd-even scheme traffic rotation to prevent air pollution.
“We can’t see the skyline. The air is unbreathable and traveling to work is extremely dangerous as you can see anything after 2 meters in the smog. This is not severe! This is an emergency—the next level of severity.”Abhishek singh, a Delhi resident told mzemo
This condition happens every year when Delhi experiences a massive spike in air pollution—unfortunately, initiating the reason for two deaths in the country “EVERY MINUTE.”
What is Behind Delhi Air Pollution?
The unfortunate thing about the population of Delhi and the Delhi government is that they are not entirely responsible for the severe air pollution in their state.
According to SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research), 48% of Delhi’s air pollution is responsible for stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana.
Delhi’s AQI has been in the severe zone (401-500) for seven days between October 20 and November 14 this year. The percentage of farm fires that contributed to Delhi’s PM 2.5 on each of these days ranged from 26% to 48%.
The primary contributors to the dangerous situation in Delhi include
Stubble Burners – The Deed Owners
Though stubble burning has been an agricultural practice for centuries, the combined mechanical harvesters leave behind the stalk of the crop in the soil, which is around 2 feet high.
Therefore, to save money and time, farmers, instead of cutting the remaining stalk, set fire to the entire field so that a new batch of crops could be grown as soon as possible.
After the year 2009, stubble burning became even more popular when the governments of Haryana and Punjab passed a law order to conserve water.
However, despite the concerning issue of air pollution in the past few years, the stubble-burning culture still continues.
The Himalayan Cool Winds Worsen the Delhi Air Pollution
The stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, and Western UP creates fumes that blow away toward Delhi due to the strong winds during winter.
Combined with the cold winds coming from the Himalayas, this smoke gets trapped in Delhi’s air due to temperature inversion. The Himalayan mountain acts like a kind of barrier for Delhi, directing the smoke towards the capital.
Additionally, the weather also plays a significant role in worsening Delhi’s pollution. During the winters, cold mountain air rushes down from the Himalayas towards Delhi. Arriving cold air from the Himalayas beneath a layer of warm lowland air creates a dome over the state.
The warm air keeps pollution trapped on the ground with nowhere to go. So when stubble fire smoke reaches Delhi, it blends with urban pollution and forms toxic smog.
All these reasons combined, Delhi experiences dangerous air pollution that is so high that even air quality meters cannot accurately gauge its level.
The Co-Partners of Stubble Burners
During October-November, India celebrates their premier festival of Diwali, where lighting crackers worsen the situation in Delhi.
When the weather was considered, the survey discovered increases in PM2.5 concentrations, one of the most dangerous particles for human health, to approximately 40% high on the second day of the festival.
The Delhi government, however, made significant efforts to reduce the effects of burning crackers in Delhi pollution but failed to implement it thoroughly.
Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana peaks in October end- and November. While the contribution of Diwali crackers significantly affects the air quality of Delhi.
Nevertheless, the contribution of stubble burning is Delhi’s primary cause of air pollution.
Delhi Air Pollution: The Solution
The unique geographical location of Delhi, coupled with its huge population, puts the state in a fragile position. In the interview with Mzemo, Abhishek said that the condition is getting worse every year.
However, there are a few solutions.
The controllable thing for Delhi is to use public transport, the Metro, or trains to travel. Secondly, reduce the waste or bifurcate the plastics and dry waste from wet. Third, implement strict rules and regulations against the Punjab and Haryana governments.
And most importantly, the government needs to come up with policies that to restore quality air in Delhi, especially when the life of 18 million people are at risk.
What Does Shraddha Walker’s Murder Mean for Love in India?
Earlier this month, India was shocked by the news of the murder of 28-year-old Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla. Aftab had killed Shraddha merely three days after they moved into their new home in Delhi in May this year. Aftab had cut the body of Shraddha into 35 pieces and stored them in a fridge. He was gradually disposing of the body parts in a nearby forest area.
Interfaith Couple and Sensational Murder Trial
After the news of Shraddha’s murder broke in mid-November following the arrest of Aftab Poonawalla, it became a sensational murder trial. The murder was debated on prime-time debates on TV.
While the murder was chilling and one could expect it to cause a sensation, it became a sensational murder trial for very wrong reasons in India. The fact that Shraddha and Aftab were an interfaith couple made it a sensational murder.
Even though Aftab has claimed that he killed Shraddha in a fit of rage while they were fighting, the police are yet to establish the motive for the murder. The media trial, however, has given a religious colour to the murder. Some people, including those on TV debates, have dressed the murder in the language of religion.
The religious colour given to the Shraddha murder and the transcending of the murder beyond its context is a result of the Love Jihad discourse adopted by the ruling right-wing party BJP. BJP used Loved Jihad as an electoral issue in many state elections.
At present, eleven states where BJP is in power have passed legislation against Love Jihad. The argument by the Hindu nationalists is that Muslim men intentionally fall in love with Hindu women and then these men force the women to convert from Hinduism to Islam.
There are also attempts to demonize Muslims after the murder of Shraddha. A man from the UP state recently went on TV to support the actions of Aftab. He claimed to be a Muslim, named Rashid Khan and justified the cutting of Shraddha into 35 pieces.
When the police arrested the said man, it was found that he is a Hindu, named Vikas Gupta.
Vikas Gupta’s statement went viral on social media and Muslims were called out and demonized for his statement.
A Setback to the Freedom to Love in India?
Shraddha’s sensational murder trial has raised questions about love in India. It will hurt the hard-won right of freedom to love.
There are two aspects to be considered. First is the freedom of young people to love or live in live-in relationships. Since the news of the murder reached almost every home in India, it will scare people from getting into live-in relationships. Further, society will also be suspicious of these relationships. Live-in couples already face difficulty in negotiating the conservative society in India and the case will only exacerbate it. For instance, live-in couples in India find it difficult to find a house or rented accommodation. Aftab and Shraddha also lived in rented accommodation. More people than ever before will now hesitate to rent their accommodations to live-in couples.
Second, as discussed above Shraddha’s murder will make it worse for interfaith couples to negotiate everyday life in India. Even though India was never a safe place for interfaith couples, the case is going to make society hostile to interfaith love. Those who were already against interfaith love will use this case to further cement their position on Love Jihad.
Further, society in general parents of young people in particular will turn hostile against love.
A Difficult Task Ahead
The sensational murder trial and the media trial of Shraddha’s murder by Aftab have raised questions about love in India. Further, the discourse of Love Jihad is also back. Hindu nationalists will make sure that the case is exploited to its full to make a case for Love Jihad.
For those in India, who want to preserve the hard-won right of freedom to love, the task ahead is very difficult. Even though the case has already become sensational, they must make sure that it is restricted to its immediate context. If the case transcends its immediate context, hate will win against love. Love must triumph!
Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives
A proscribed militant outfit in Kashmir recently made anonymous online threats to over a dozen journalists belonging to several media organizations. The outfit published the threat on a website and people circulated it on social media. The Kashmiri journalists were accused of being “collaborators”. Five of the journalists who were threatened have already resigned.
Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the anti-terrorist law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and launched an investigation. On November 19, police raids were underway at the residences of journalists Gowhar Geelani, Qazi Shibli, Rashid Maqbool, Khalid Gul, Waseem Raja, Sajad Kralyari & militant Momin Gulzar, Mukhtar Baba and advocate Abu Adil Pandit.
The police alleged that The Resistance Front (TRF), which is an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was behind the threat to journalists. The security agencies further found that journalist Mukhtar Baba was the mastermind behind putting out the list of journos accusing them of being informers for security forces. Baba, who is currently based in Turkey, is has worked as a journalist in Kashmir. He is familiar with the media environment in Kashmir. The police also revealed that Baba is very close to Pakistani intelligence agencies.
The police requested media houses “not to fall for sensationalism in discussing names of victims in reporting and also to behave responsibly and not endanger the safety and security of their fellow journalists”.
Battle of Narratives
The ongoing battle of narratives in Kashmir between pro-India and anti-India has created a false and dangerous binary in Kashmir. Journalists, who work for various media houses and newspapers in Kashmir, increasingly face themselves choosing sides between anti-India and pro-India narratives. Choosing sides has led journalists into a trap. If they report and support the pro-India narrative, militant groups accuse them of being collaborators. If they report anti-India narrative, the Indian security agencies accuse them of supporting terrorism in the region. In this vicious cycle, many journalists have lost their lives, and many are languishing in jails.
Kashmiri Journalists Face Killings and Jail
The same Let killedpProminent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari in 2018 in Srinagar. The police alleged that Sheikh Sajad alias Sajjad Gul was responsible for his killing.
In February this year, the police booked and arrested Fahad Shah, the Editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, under anti-terrorism law and sedition for his reporting on Kashmir. He continues to be in jail. His online magazine faces several cases for reporting controversial news. The security agencies have alleged that Fahad was propagating fake news through his portal.
In August 2018, the police arrested Aasif Sultan, an assistant editor of the magazine Kashmir Narrator, under the anti-terror law. The police accused him of “harbouring known militants”.
There are several other stories of Kashmiri journalists being harassed by militants and police alike. While militants make death threats to journalists, the security agencies in Kashmir arrest and intimidate the journalists. There are several cases where chilling details of threat and intimidation of journalists by police have emerged.
In October this year, Indian authorities prevented Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to the US. Mattoo, a freelance photojournalist, was part of a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. She was flying to the US to receive the award. Earlier in July this year, Indian authorities prevented Mattoo from travelling to Paris.
This was not the first time that Indian authorities prevented a Kashmiri journalist from flying abroad. Several other journalists were prohibited from flying.
Also Read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir
Journalists in Dilemma
The threats by the militants and the harassment by the Indian agencies have put Kashmiri journalists in dilemma. They do not know when their reporting will invoke the wrath of Indian agencies or the militants. It is a huge risk to invoke the wrath of any one of them.
As a result, political reporting in Kashmir has become very difficult. Various news agencies, in order to evade the binary, do not cover political issues. They just restrict their reporting highlighting societal issues.
Hence, in this battle of narratives, objective political reporting has become the real victim.
Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir
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