In modern India, garments selections sign a deepening spiritual divide

In a video that has due to the fact gone viral on social media, a group of males get on a dusty street in India’s southern Karnataka point out.

Carrying saffron-colored flags and matching scarves, the guys chant loudly in unison as they taunt their targets: Muslim females in hijabs who continue to be huddled in one corner of the avenue.

The visible confrontation amongst their black and blue Islamic clothes and the raging sea of saffron — a colour carefully related with Hinduism — is symbolic of deepening divisions in the nation brought about, in aspect, by the rise of Hindu nationalism.

What started out in January as a tranquil demonstration by 6 Muslim college students protesting for the proper to use hijabs in their condition-operate college has morphed into a larger motion outlined by gender, faith and garments. And the arrival, weeks later, of counter demonstrators clad in saffron is indicative of the blurring strains amongst the Indian state and faith.

The orange-yellow hue, found as a symbol of divinity in Hinduism, has been overtly adopted by the considerably-proper Hindutva motion and, in new many years, more and more politicized. The motion seeks to homogenize Indian society around Hindu values.

For India’s Muslims, meanwhile, the hijab has turn into a symbol of resistance from the wave of Islamophobia spreading across the place, as females wearing the spiritual garment protest in several towns and towns in support of the college students.

“I begun covering my head three many years in the past as a protest versus crimes in opposition to Muslims,” explained 23-12 months-previous Muslim activist Afreen Fatima in a mobile phone job interview. She had been demonstrating in her hometown of Allahabad in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

“But now, it has grow to be a non secular obligation for me. It is an assertion of my identification. I am an Indian Muslim and I’m not likely any place.”

A symbol of resistance

The hijab, an Islamic headband, is worn by hundreds of thousands of Muslim females all over the planet as a indicator of modesty and privacy. But in some nations around the world the garment has verified controversial, with critics depicting it as a symbol of oppression or arguing that it is incompatible with secular values.

In 2004 the French govt banned religious garments, which include the hijab, in condition colleges. Seven decades later France turned the initial nation in Europe to ban all experience-masking garments in community areas, with policymakers describing the transfer a make a difference of countrywide id and stability.
Other European countries have because adopted go well with with similar limits, however the types of veil permitted — and the place they can be worn — vary.

In India, nonetheless, the hijab is neither banned nor restricted in general public spaces, and the correct to exercise one’s faith is certain under the country’s secular constitution. But, like elsewhere in the world, Muslim ladies can deal with backlash and discrimination for picking to dress in a person.

In accordance to Indian poet and activist Nabiya Khan, Muslim ladies are “imagined in an Islamic veil and witnessed as submissive” because they do not “match the feminist narrative of the liberal elite.”

“I dress in (a) hijab because I want to,” she stated through WhatsApp. “It serves me a religious and religious significance. It brings me nearer to my god.”

Muslim learners depart their school in Udupi, Karnataka, immediately after they have been denied entry on February 16, 2022. Credit history: Stringer/Anadolu Company/Getty Photographs

The conflict in Karnataka began after a modest team of hijabi pupils ended up denied entry to their lecture rooms in the coastal metropolis of Udupi, according to the petition they afterwards submitted in the state’s top rated court docket. In early January, the girls staged a protest exterior their federal government-operate school, demanding they be permitted inside. But their teachers refused.

Their demonstration prompted rival protests from proper-wing Hindus carrying saffron scarves and flags (these types of as all those captured in the aforementioned movie), chanting a religious Hindu slogan in assistance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Bash (BJP) and demanding the ladies take away their head coverings.

The clashes proliferated by means of Karnataka, with the state buying a three-working day closure of all superior universities and faculties in early February. Authorities in the state’s cash, Bengaluru, also banned protests outside schools for two weeks.

Karnataka’s education and learning minister B.C. Nagesh said he supported banning the hijab in instructional institutions. Citing the state’s mandate on religious attire, the CNN affiliate CNN News-18 that Karnataka’s authorities “is incredibly organization that the faculty is not a system to apply dharma (religion).”

But activists say the hijab row operates further than a costume code, saying it’s just the hottest in a broader crackdown on India’s minority Muslim population considering that Primary Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP arrived to electric power nearly 8 yrs ago.

The BJP did not answer to CNN’s request for comment or to allegations that it advocates Hindu nationalism and is applying the hijab row for political acquire. When questioned about the hijab controversy all through a meeting with reporters in February, India’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, informed CNN the make any difference was for Karnataka’s authorities to deal with.

Muslim women in Mumbai protest against the Karnataka government on February 13, 2022.

Muslim gals in Mumbai protest in opposition to the Karnataka govt on February 13, 2022. Credit: Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Occasions/Getty Pictures

Karnataka has previously passed laws that, critics say, is rooted in Hindutva ideology. Previous 12 months, the state banned the sale and slaughter of cows, an animal viewed as sacred to Hindus. It also released a controversial anti-conversion monthly bill, which would make it harder for interfaith couples to marry or for folks to transform to Islam or Christianity.

For Fatima, the hijab row is just the newest go from authorities to quell Muslim voices.

“This motion is us fighting for our faith, id and religious flexibility,” she said. “By wearing our hijab and using this stand, we are telling Hindus that we are not likely to back down.”

In one particular of the most hanging scenes from the February stand-off, a hijab-putting on Muslim college student, Muskan Khan, does exactly that. In an additional movie, which also went viral, Khan is observed remaining accosted by guys as she will get off her scooter to hand in a faculty assignment.

They heckle her, demanding she consider off her hijab. But instead of complying, Khan shouts back again “Allahu Akbar” — indicating “God is terrific” in Arabic — and punches her fist in the air.

Her raised fist has turn out to be an icon of defiance. In an act of solidarity, scores of Muslim women have adjusted their Twitter profile photos to a silhouette of Khan’s elevated fist, while her likeness has appeared on placards and posters at demonstrations.

Ashish Bagchi is a person of lots of designers and artists who have shared illustrations inspired by Khan on social media. His graphic depicts her strolling with her head held large as saffron-tinted arms — consultant of the Hindu right — encroach on her.

Ashish Bagchi's illustration depicts saffron-tinted arms surrounding Muskan Khan, who has become a symbol of resistance against the proposed hijab ban.

Ashish Bagchi’s illustration depicts saffron-tinted arms encompassing Muskan Khan, who has come to be a image of resistance versus the proposed hijab ban. Credit score: Ashish Bagchi

Bagchi’s personal political performs, which look on his Instagram and Twitter, existing a narrative of India’s shrinking freedoms.

“What really moved me was the way she stood her ground,” he reported. “What stood out for me was those people guys shouting and brandishing her with their saffron stoles. Unfortunately, the saffron coloration now symbolizes a particular political ideology.”

The politicization of color

The color saffron has roots in Hinduism — a single of the world’s oldest religions — and represents peace. About 80% of India’s 1.3 billion men and women are Hindu, and the coloration is seen draped on idols in the temples, tied around the neck of cows and applied as avenue decorations all through festivals.

Hindu holy men take a dip in the Ganges River during the religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021.

Hindu holy males consider a dip in the Ganges River through the spiritual Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar on April 12, 2021. Credit rating: Revenue SHARMA/AFP/Getty Illustrations or photos

But at any time considering the fact that the BJP swept to electrical power with a Hindu nationalist agenda in 2014, the colour has turn into increasingly politicized. Modi and his compatriots are normally found donning saffron-hued apparel and extras at election rallies, though supporters wave the party’s flag (which is primarily saffron) or other equally coloured kinds.

“The appropriation of saffron is a way of signaling that the get together is not just political, but deeply rooted in religion,” explained Gilles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at India’s Ashoka University, in a phone interview.

A crowd at a rally for Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 3, 2019 in Kolkata, India.

A crowd at a rally for Key Minister Narendra Modi on April 3, 2019 in Kolkata, India. Credit score: Atul Loke/Getty Images

“The colour serves the reason of a ‘uniform’ and offers BJP supporters a sense of unity and commonality.”

The BJP’s Yogi Adityanath, Main Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is one particular high-profile figure who is virtually usually observed dressed head-to-toe in the color. Arguably one particular of the most polarizing figures in Indian politics, Adityanath — a former Hindu priest — is acknowledged for his provocative rhetoric versus Muslims.
Yogi Adityanath at the inauguration of the Awadh Shilpgram Cultural Centre and Marketplace in Lucknow, India, on March 19, 2021.

Yogi Adityanath at the inauguration of the Awadh Shilpgram Cultural Centre and Market in Lucknow, India, on March 19, 2021. Credit: T. Narayan/Bloomberg/Getty Photographs

And when not every single Hindu that wears the color espouses Hindu nationalism, when politicians dressed in saffron make statements from the country’s minorities, it emboldens considerably-right teams to do the exact, according to historian Aditya Mukherjee.

“The spiritual symbolism made use of by the Hindu ideal these days is a complete inversion of what Indian society is. They have provided the shade a various which means,” explained Mukherjee.

“This is not what the Hindu faith stands for. And it’s undoubtedly not an natural and organic emotion coming from several Hindu Indians.

“It is a incredibly frightening second for India,” he additional, referring to how extremists have carried out violent attacks against Muslims.

It is symbolic, perhaps, that as saffron gets to be an progressively frequent sight in public life, the hijab’s position in India has now been thrown into dilemma. Karnataka’s Significant Courtroom has completed deliberating in excess of regardless of whether faculties can ban headscarves or not, and a ruling is envisioned before long. In the meantime, its interim buy to prohibit all spiritual clothing in educational institutes with an current costume code or uniform, still stands.

For the activist Fatima, getting rid of the hijab is “like asking our females to strip.”

“It is fathomably disturbing. It is unethical,” she mentioned, incorporating that she will not be “silenced” by the increasing Hindu proper.

“The solutions we as Muslims have to need justice are really couple. Muslim females have it even worse. We really don’t have the privilege to continue to be silent. We will assert our identity even a lot more.”

Prime image caption: Learners and activists maintain banners though shouting slogans throughout a demonstration in Karnataka following Muslim college students were being told not to use hijabs in schools.