'You can walk wearing the hijab on the street, but not in a school.'
In anticipation of the Karnataka high court verdict, the state government ordered all schools and colleges in Dakshina Kannada district to be closed on Tuesday, March 15, even as prohibitory orders were imposed in several places.
The hijab row began at a pre-university college in Udupi in late January, then spread to other parts of Karnataka.
Students wearing the hijab were prevented from entering the pre university college campus as the authorities felt it was against the uniform prescribed by the institution.
'If you let Muslim students wearing hijab in, we will go in wearing saffron shawls', threatened some Hindu students backed by radical Hindu outfits.
Where will this lead to?
"You can ask students not to wear any other religious symbols to school. I would even say ban religious prayers in school," Prakash Belawadi, the well known activist and media personality from Karnataka, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
The concluding segment of a two-part interview:
The politics of segregation has been on the rise ever since Narendra Modi came to power. But is it confined to the BJP alone?
I don't agree. Politics of segregation was on the rise even before Modi came to power.
Modi came to power because it was on the rise.
Some people think that once Modi goes and somebody else comes, Hindutva will recede. No. It is a foolish notion.
Just look at the way Hindutva advanced in West Bengal. If you force anything down, the Sangh Parivar will be even more influential than now.
Is the Congress that ruled India for so long the reason behind such a division in society, and the rise of Narendra Modi?
No, I think it is unfair to say so.
The Congress had a culture of great intellectual depth, people who could guide in politics.
And then it went through three phases of degradation.
The first was the dismantling of inner party democracy.
But many from the pre-Nehruvian and Nehruvian Congress era still lingered there, and many of those principles and values continued even under the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi.
She was still considered a patriot, a genuine mass leader and many people, including my father, thought very highly of her.
She could manage to keep with her the intellectual depth of the Congress, and field it when required.
But after her death in 1984, came the next two phases of degradation.
The idea of dynastic succession not only got embedded, but Rajiv Gandhi was also guilty of being the first one to surround himself with sycophants.
Though Indira Gandhi had made many rubber stamps, she still consulted many bright people.
But Rajiv Gandhi, not only within the Cabinet, but in the organisation too, found himself surrounded -- by and large -- by people with not-so- great minds.
In the third phase of the Congress, after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Narasimha Rao did many great things, like changing the business culture of India, the way elections were conducted in India, etc...
But the tragedy is that the Congress does not even own what Narasimha Rao has done!
Even Manmohan Singh belongs to the Narasimha Rao regime, but he himself is not generous enough to acknowledge that. This is the third phase.
What has happened to the Congress is that they don't have coherent leadership on difficult questions.
When you do not have coherence or articulation, it is difficult to manage the fault lines of India.
Who can deny that the question of wearing religious garb to school is located on a fault line in India?
When you yourself are wearing veshtis and religious shawls and going to temples before the elections, you are confusing people.
When the Congress is also doing soft Hindutva, people think this is accepted.
But politicians become more communal and divisive during the elections...
They are calculating. In a divided society, when you have this Westminster style of first-pass-the-post system, somebody with 35% of vote share, will rule the country.
Nobody is trying to win 50% ever, everybody is trying to win 35%!
In such a society, what else can politicians do? They will try to divide the society. And everybody is guilty of it. The BJP is open about it, that's all.
Where will this hijab controversy lead to as it is spreading to other campuses too? More segregation in society?
It will spread. There is no doubt about it.
That's why the Karnataka government closed all the colleges and schools in the state. They knew it would catch fire.
The moment you allow students to come to classes -- say wearing saffron scarfs -- it will destroy the school.
The school will become a religious institution. Uniform is the most sacred idea you can have.
You feel the hijab also has no place in a classroom?
You can walk wearing the hijab on the street, but not in a school.
You can also ask students not to wear any other religious symbols either to school.
I would even say ban religious prayers also in school.
When I say this, do I become a Hindutva person? No.
Are we in a dangerous situation?
Extremely dangerous. Only if we can use this as an opportunity to debate and say things like 'You should keep religion at home and in community organisations.'
You cannot bring religion to school. A school is not a madrasa.
In schools, there should be uniform education and uniform appearance.
And you should adhere to the norms of the school.
We should also have a debate in Parliament and in society on the contentious clauses in the Constitution.
We should make a law saying that elected representatives during their time in office shall not make any public demonstration of caste or religious affiliation.
All these are difficult things to do, but if you don't do this, the situation will get worse and ever more dangerous.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com