In hijab row, critics say India’s BJP looking for votes in southern state


A series of religious laws promoted by India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party in the southern state of Kar-nataka, including a ban on the wearing of hijabs, is raising concerns the divisive measures will stoke sectarian tensions more prevalent in the country’s north.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently banned wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka, the only one of India’s five southern states it rules. A proposal to make religious conversions largely illegal is being considered by the local legislature.

The moves have become an issue of contention involving India’s Muslim minority. Opposition par-ties and many political analysts accuse the BJP of fomenting tensions in Karnataka to consolidate its appeal to majority Hindus, like they say it has else-where in the country.

Modi’s office did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. The BJP has denied that Karnataka’s Feb. 5 hijab ban, a recent bill aimed at mainly preventing conversion of poor Hindus to Christianity and Islam, and a 2021 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows – considered sacred in Hindu-ism – were designed to pander to the majority com-munity.

“The hijab controversy started as a very local-ised issue that could have been nipped in its bud”, said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist who has taught in Karnataka.

Read more: Pakistan reiterates demand for jus-tice for Samjhauta Express blast victims “I’m keep-ing my fingers crossed as to what would be the re-percussions of a verdict on the issue,” Shastri added, referring to a petition in the high court seeking to overturn the hijab ban. read more

“Is it going to further damage the social fabric in the state?” Karnataka’s capital is the cosmopolitan hub Bengaluru, a city of about 12 million people that is the centre of India’s booming IT industry.

The school ban on the hijab – the traditional covering of the hair and neck worn by Muslim women – fanned protests by some Muslim students and parents around Karnataka earlier in the month. There were some counter protests by Hindu students draped in saffron-coloured shawls, usually worn by Hindus.

There was no violence but such tensions are a hot-button issue in India, where Muslims account for about 13% of the country’s 1.35 billion people. India has experienced several deadly Hindu-Muslim riots since independence in 1947, but hardly any of them in the south. BJP’s Karnataka spokesperson Ganesh Karnik blamed Muslims for seeking what he called a differ-ent identity by insisting on wearing the hijab in class, and said the dispute could unite Hindus.

“They look at every issue as a victim,” said Karnik. “If they take a stand, the Hindu community will also take a stand. Our young girls and boys will be disturbed (thinking) why are they being given a special privilege?”

He said the BJP was confident of retaining power in Karnataka state elections next year and then expanding further in the region. “We are expanding, we will rule more southern states. If not today, tomorrow, if not tomorrow, the day after,” Karnik said.

In Uttar Pradesh state in the north, home to more than 200 million people and the bellwether of national politics, a long-running dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a religious site has be-come the central issue in ongoing state elections in which Modi’s BJP is seeking to retain power. read more

Catch them young Muzaffar Assadi, a political analyst who teaches at Karnataka’s University of Mysore, said the hijab issue targets youth who would be 18 and eligible to vote in time for next year’s state election and the national election, which is due in 2024.

“They are potential voters, so you just rake up the issue, create a wedge and ultimately you have a base for the next election,” said Assadi.—Reuters


Previous articleAttack on Ethiopia refugee camp kills five, displaces thousands: UN
Next articleIMF relief Package, Trick or Treat