Umaiyah Khan, an MBA student from Jamia Millia Islamia was barred from taking the UGC NET examination on 20 December 2018 because of her headscarf that she refused to take off.
Umaiyah reached her centre, Ojas Institute of management in Rohini, New Delhi at 1.06pm and entered through the examination centre’s gates at 1.15pm where a male staff member checked her admit card and asked her to remove her hijab and put it in her handbag.
Umaiyah, who did her schooling from Bijnaur,UP and high school from Aligarh Muslim University, refused to comply while trying to explain to the staff member that it was mandatory and in accordance with her faith’s practices that she continue wearing the hijab even in the examination hall.
Umaiyah was ready to be frisked thoroughly and remove her hijab for the purpose of checking by the female staff present at the centre, as is in compliance with the examination protocol to make sure that a candidate is not resorting to any unfair means. However, the staff present were not ready to listen to her.
Umaiyah states “They didn’t give me any real choice except to remove my hijab and put it in my bag, if I wanted to sit in the exam. They did not respond to my valid question, when I asked them to show me the guidelines where the rules were stated, as nothing of that sort was mentioned on the hall ticket, they were not ready to even listen and kept repeating the same.”
“There is no such rule that expects you to remove your hijab or mangalsutra. It felt so humiliating, they were publicly asking me to compromise with either my values or educational rights.”
Umaiyah Khan was ready to be thoroughly checked and yet by asking her to remove her hijab for the entire duration of the examination, the officials were violating Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which is a fundamental right and allows you to practice and profess your religion, while we know that fundamental rights are not absolute, the National Testing Agency does not provide a dress code for students. Protocol does not demand that you remove your hijab but it does demand that you go through the security check, which the student concerned was ready to comply with.
NTA director-general Vineet Joshi has been recorded saying that there was no dress code for the test and said the agency was “sensitive to matters of faith and gender”
A lot of people have come forward with their opinion that Umaiyah should have removed her hijab for the duration of the examination but we are walking a narrow lane here, those who are quick to pass such remarks do not understand the insensitivity of their own statements and neither are they concerned about hurting the minority sentiment, rather they consider the minority quite an anomaly. It is really disappointing that in Umaiyah’s case, those in positions of authority refused to understand where she was coming from. All she did was, speak up against the injustice that was unleashed upon her.
This issue now isn’t just confined to religion, it comes from an inherent misunderstanding, from a place of ignorance and not wanting to know about the other or Differance as called by Jacques Derrida. Those who had asked Umaiyah to take off her hijab so easily, did not understand how her hijab was intermingled with her identity and was not a mere external piece of clothing.
The veil in Islam was introduced 1400 years ago and overtime, it has come to mean many different things. Its role in today’s world and in the lives of Muslim women is different from what it was 1400 years ago. Today, it acts as a symbol of expression. Turkey in its attempt to quickly modernise had banned the headscarf from being worn in public institutions, women voluntarily sported headscarves and asked that the ban be lift. Wearing the hijab in the face of Islamophobia has become the Islamic feminists’ act of defiance. The hijab is not just another piece of clothing, it is not an ornament that someone parts with. Once the choice, choice becomes an important noun here, to adorn the hijab has been made, it is an identity that one cannot separate themselves from easily, those who decide to adorn it, do so with the utmost commitment and somebody who hasn’t committed to the same cannot understand what goes into that sort of commitment.
Safina Khan Soudagar from Panaji, Goa also talks of the harassment she had to face when she refused to remove her Hijab. The DMC issued an official notice to the UGC secretary interjecting “It is a clear case of discrimination against a religious minority and an attempt to keep it away from the national mainstream. This practice has no legal or constitutional basis. The Kerala HC has clearly allowed Muslim women to appear in exams and tests while wearing scarf and full sleeves.”
Umaiyah however does believe that only the staff present at the institute is to be held responsible and it was their carelessness, irresponsible attitude and general ignorance of the proper protocol that caused a student to feel harassed and not communal sentiment that has been on the rise, lately.
“I can’t judge what was on their minds while they asked me to remove my hijab but it’s very disappointing to see that they were not even ready to go ahead with the security check. I have mailed the Minority commission, UGC and MHRD a written complaint and I would be happy if they respond soon to serve justice to me”
However, the question arises now that how does the UGC take responsibility for these actions. Furthermore, how can they work towards undoing the damage that these students had to face due to the ignorance of the staff on-duty at the examination centres.
A formal protest was organised in the university of Jamia Millia Islamia on the 22nd of December and the students of Jamia stand strongly in solidarity with Umaiyah Khan.
-Maria Uzma Ansari
Jamia Millia Islamia