The Hijab controversy in Karnataka besides fomenting an agitation has also generated an extensive debate on the headgear itself ranging from personal choice and freedom of the wearer to a conspiracy hatched by Campus Front of India (CPI) to trick students into its fundamentalist ideology. Many even see this as a deliberate ruse to influence voting in the ongoing state elections in Uttar Pradesh by way of creating a polarization on religious lines. Then, several experts and scholars have waded into this issue to question and negate those who say Hijab is prescribed as an essential cover for Muslim women in the holy Quran. Still there are people who cite the plight and appeal of girls in countries like Afghanistan and Iran, where women have been held hostage by mandatory veiling practices.
While the debate and the issue may be settled by the wisdom of the courts and even politicians in coming days, the controversy has also presented an opportunity to pay attention to glaring loopholes in schooling regulations in the country. The Right to Education Act, 2009, which in 12 years of operation is still ‘a bad law’ for many needs to be brought back in public discourse and into these debates. The Supreme Court of India last week rejected a PIL which among other things wanted the exemption of Minority Education Institutions under the RTE Act to go and a uniform standardized curriculum introduced in all schools in India.
While the apex court had its own reasons to say that there was no urgency of examining the validity of Act’s provisions, still there is merit in starting a discussion to see how RTE Act can become an effective tool in at least in keeping the K-12 school system free from controversies of this kind. RTE Act was a result of a long fought rights battle on behalf of the children of India. The law could have well gone beyond the oblivious developmental and regulatory aspirations to addressing the promotion of constitutional values as enshrined in the Preamble. Keeping the Minority Education Institutions outside its purview is a costly mistake and NCPCR has already gathered evidence to say why is it so.
The religious fault line running deep across the nation is one of the most worrisome enduring challenges and an all effort is needed to not allow this line to cause seismic eruptions. The young minds are easily captivated and need handholding. If a large presence of orthodoxy was not enough, radicalization of the educated sections aided by rapid fire social media in recent years has amplified and added new extreme falsehoods to the existing religious divide.
Dealing with such a challenge must be embedded in our schooling—be it through curriculum or regulations. Therefore the need of the time is to strengthen RTE Act, amend it suitably and effectively bring every school under its ambit. Schools can be made spaces of no prejudices and importantly of modernity and natural bonding. And with every graduating generation, country’s social tensions will not only recede but the room for trouble rousers will shrink as well.