Hijab controversy and education | By Tariq Aqil


Hijab controversy and education

MARCH 8th is celebrated every year as the International Women’s Day and women all over the world raise their voice to highlight the achievement of women and their continuing struggle for gender equality. Ironically our next door neighbor Afghanistan has a very poor record of protecting women’s rights. The highly misogynistic regime of the Taliban now in their second stint as rulers of Afghanistan have ruthlessly suppressed and dehumanized the women of their country and all in the name of Islam. Pakistan another Muslim Majority country fortunately has a better record as far as treatment of women is concerned but this seems to be getting worse with the passage of time. According to the latest circular of the Directorate of Elementary and Secondary Education of the PTI led Govt. of Tanveer Iliyas in AJK the wearing of Hijab has been made compulsory in the educational institutions of AJK. The rather flimsy excuse cited by the AJK Govt. for this ridiculous decision are modesty and religious obligations. This is another example of the enforcement of a rule that should be a personal decision of individual girls. The Govt. has claimed that the rule will be “Strictly” enforced and all schools and colleges flouting the rule will be penalized. The circular of the AJK govt. has been severely criticized on the social media.

The Govt. of AJK should focus their attention on improving the quality of education and removing impediments in the spread of education and should not waste their time in telling the women what to wear or what to do. It is not the business of the Govt. to enforce a dress code on the women. Wearing a hijab observing purdah or taking the veil is entirely a personal matter and a Govt. department or agency has no business to poke their nose in such personal and private matters. Such a decision amounts to moral policing. Women are the only target of this new law. We do not see any restrictions or bans imposed on men but for women the Govt. comes up with crazy excuses from religion to security.

Let us remember that Pakistan is not Afghanistan and all those elements of the obscurantist forces must be stopped from turning our country into talibanistan. Moral policing of women as in Afghanistan must be crushed ruthlessly. Women should be free to decide whether or not they want to wear the Hijab. Allowing such restrictions will embolden the Govt. to start policing the citizens in many other aspects also and creating a police state. It is well known that AJK has far higher literacy rates than other regions of the country but the quality of education still needs much to be desired. One recent study proved that 20 percent of the students in the fifth grade were unable to read a simple story in Urdu and many failed to do simple math exercises the education department of AJK should spend time and energy into addressing such urgent issues instead of running after ridiculously silly and unwanted issues like Hijab and dress code for women.

This decision was not the result of any consultative process. Parents, students and teachers were kept in the dark. The education minister of the AJK Deevan Ali Khan Chughtai has claimed complete acceptance of the law by the civil society of AJK and termed it a collective decision. It is very obvious that the decision was taken in haste and it is an effort to appease the dark and sinister forces of religious extremism and bigotry. The decision is poorly thought out and badly planned. As far as the much touted religious argument is concerned it must be seen that this may be true for some but at the same time religious values and morals differ from person to person and across the sectarian divide. Every individual and every group has the right to practice their religious values according to their belief and the decision as such as hijab is definitely a personal matter.

The policy, at the moment, seems baseless and authoritarian. While the penalization for failure to follow the dress code is unclear, the kind of action to be taken against transgressors should also be clarified. . policy of enforcing the Hijab on female population and making it a power tool in the hands of the Govt. is dangerous, wrong and totally uncalled for. In this age of the media such actions will invite international criticism and ridicule from progressive forces all over the world. The PTI boss Imran Khan had proudly claimed at the time of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan that the Taliban “Have Brocken the shackles of slavery” it now appears that he is now hell bent on imposing the shackles of slavery on the women of Pakistan. This country is in desperate need of economic emancipation and good governance we just cannot allow the forces of religious fanaticism to take control of the country and take us back to the dark ages.

—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.