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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Saffron, Blue Shawls and Hijab

India's upper castes associated with the Hindu nationalist party Rastriya Swayam Sewak Sangh wear saffron to express their identity. Those who are Dalits use blue to display discrimination against them for centuries by the upper castes. Muslim women wear headscarves or veils to practice their religiously mandated Modesty.

In the Southern state of Karnataka, ruled by the Hindu nationalist party, BJP, Hijab is a political issue. The state government disallowed Hijab-wearing Muslim girls from entering the college premises; the girls refused to yield, and the college administration closed their gates. The girls showed at the gates daily, finally, the principal allowed them to enter the college, but in an apartheid-style, they sat in a separate classroom.

In the meantime, Hindu nationalist party leaders proked upper-caste Hindu girls to wear saffron shawls to display their religious identity. Overnight, they procured hundreds of shawls and distributed them to Hindu upper-caste students.

In solidarity with Muslim girls, the Dalit students wore blue shawls to protest the Upper-caste political manipulations.

The Hindu nationalists use this latest controversy to polarize India into Hindu and Muslims to achieve their dream of turning the country into a Hindu Rashtra.

India's constitution guarantees its people to dress the way they like in schools, colleges, and the public. Hijab is now a political issue, and the BJP hopes to cash it in the forthcoming elections in five Indian states. The BJP uses the Hijab ban issue to demonstrate to upper-caste Hindu voters that only Hindu nationalists have the guts to humiliate Muslims.

If the display of religious identity is an issue, then the hijab is not the end of the controversy. Under the BJP logic, non-upper-caste sanctioned names are its logical end.

Hijab is an expression of Modesty. Known as demureness, it is a mode of dress that refers to dignity. "Modesty" comes from modestus, which means "keeping within measure."

Religious communities and cultures have different stands of Modesty and vary widely. But they all believe that people have the freedom to express their Modesty according to their value systems.

Buddhism provides guidelines on proper clothes and recommends its followers never to lower robes wrapped around.

Christianity asks its followers to wear decent attire and, specifically, asks women to be fully covered and wear a shawl. Nuns always use headscarves.

Conservative Anabaptist Christians have plain dress prescriptions designed to achieve Modesty. All traditional Anabaptist women wear Christian head coverings and a skirt or dress, and all men wear long trousers. Pope Pius XI also issued the standard of decent dress, declaring that "A dress is not decent which is deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat; which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper."

Methodists require their women to appear in public with dresses of modest length, sleeves of appropriate size, modest necklines, and modest hose; They forbid the wearing of split skirts, slacks, jeans, artificial flowers, or feathers.

Quaker Christians wear the plain dress as part of their testimony of simplicity.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forbids clothing such as "short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Their Brigham Young University (BYU) requires students and tenants of BYU housing to sign an agreement to live according to these standards of Modesty.

In Hinduism, Modesty through appropriate dress has the energy to transmit spirit and substance in social discourse. Clothing serves as a means of expression or celebration, with some dressing elements such as saffron threads or white dress worn by men as moral, transformative and a means to identify and communicate one's social role in a gathering, or one's state of life such as mourning in days or weeks after the passing away of a loved one. In Hindu temples, it is mandatory to cover the head as a mark of respect to God. In North India, women are told that covering the head is a mark of respect towards elders. Brides and grooms cover their heads for the wedding ceremony. Christian brides also cover their heads with a veil

In Sikhism, Sikh women have to cover their hair just like Sikh men (both Baptized ( Amrit ceremony) and Sehajdhari). Sikhism considers both genders as equals. Both Sikh women and men have to equally follow religious principles and contribute towards Sikhi.

Judaism has three styles of covering popular in Jewish women. First, Modesty in Judaism, called Tzniut, is vital beyond aspects of clothing. It extends to behavior in public and in private. For example, orthodox Jewish women usually wear skirts covering their knees, with blouses or shirts covering the collarbone and sleeves covering the elbows. A married Orthodox Jewish woman protects her hair in public and sometimes at home. Standards of Modesty also apply to men. Modesty for men most often translates to covering the torso and legs with loose clothing. But all have men dressed in a head covering (kippah).

Islam strongly emphasizes the concept of decency and Modesty. It is a part of faith."

The Quran tells the believers: "And tell the believing women to cast down their glances and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their head covers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women." -Quran 24:31.

"O Prophet! Say to your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers that: they should let down upon themselves their jilbab." -Quran 33:59.

Jilbab is an Arabic word meaning "loose outer garment".

"Tell the believing men to cast down their glances and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is [well] acquainted with what they do." -Quran 24:30

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