Is the ban on hijab in colleges in the southern Indian state of Karnataka motivated by Islamophobia? Is it part of the ruling BJP party's campaign against 200 million Indian Muslims? Results of a Pew Survey help clarify the answer to these questions: Six in ten Indian women, including Hindu women, cover their heads.
|Head Covering By Religions in India. Source: Pew
The survey found that a majority of Hindu women (59%), and roughly equal shares of Muslim (89%) and Sikh women (86%), wear head coverings when they go out of their homes. It was conducted in 2019-20, well before the current hijab row in Karnataka, and republished recently.
|Regional Differences in Head Coverings in India. Source: Pew
The Indian practice of head covering is much more common in the North than in the South. It is especially common in the largely Hindi-speaking regions in the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of the country. In the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, roughly nine-in-ten women say they wear head coverings in public.
In the South, 83% of Muslim women say they cover their heads, compared with 22% of Hindu women. In the Northern region, meanwhile, roughly equal shares of Muslim (85%) and Hindu (82%) women say they cover their heads in public.
|Hijab-wearing Muslim Girls Refused Entry in Karnataka Schools. Source: WSJ
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu Nationalist BJP party's entire politics revolves around hatred of Muslims and other religious minorities in India. The BJP currently rules Karnataka which has seen a rise in activities of Hindutva groups and the targeting of the state’s religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians.
“We have been wearing hijab for years without any problem but now, the issue has been suddenly taken up by the BJP and Hindutva groups to rake up communal tensions,” Kaneez Fatima, a Congress member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, told Al Jazeera, referring to the Hindu far-right groups.