Exploring Barriers in Indian Muslim Women’s Education

    • By,
      Shanam Rafique – Student, Kautilya

Article 21(A) of the Indian Constitution and Article 26 of the (UNDR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, both highlight the value of education in a person’s life. According to the ‘All Indian Survey on Higher Education’ 2020-21, there are disparities in enrollment patterns. Minority groups in India, such as the SC’s and ST’s, have the same literacy rate as Muslim women in primary school, but as they go through higher secondary education and beyond, their gross attendance ratio begins to plummet. What are the causes of this downward trend? It might be the constraints imposed by the family, society, or government. Despite India’s 75 years of independence, Muslim women’s education remains a persistent issue, with despite significant progress in literacy rates, they still fall behind non-Muslim counterparts due to various social, cultural, economic, and political factors.

Let’s discuss the ‘Hijab’ which became a matter of conflict in India and other parts of the world. France passed a legislation in 2011 outlawing the wearing of religious symbols, including the hijab, in public schools, saying that it promotes secularism and gender equality, although it has been condemned for discriminating. Around 300 Muslim girl students in France wore abayas, a sort of veil, to school to demonstrate their freedom to choose and their right to practice their faith. According to a report, the French prohibition on headscarves in public schools hampered Muslim girls’ ability to complete their secondary schooling. Next, we have Iran, which has imposed the Hijab law. This has a detrimental effect on the educational system as it prevents female students from going to school without donning a head covering. Another example of the controversy about hijab was seen last year in Karnataka . The debate over hijab wearing in one country and its enforcement in another is largely based on personal choice, with no one having the right to dictate it.

The Karnataka Hijab Ban case is a legal and socio-cultural controversy in India over Muslim female students’ wearing hijab in pre-university colleges, highlighting fundamental rights, religious freedom, and education rights. The college’s decision sparked protests from Muslim students and parents, who argued that the ban violated their right to religious expression. The Karnataka Hijab controversy served as an example of the predicament that many Muslim girls found themselves in when they had to decide between following their faith and pursuing an education. The Karnataka PUCL-K study revealed that 1,010 Muslim female students dropped out of PU colleges due to the hijab ban and other reasons, according to the state government’s response. The controversy quickly spread to other schools and colleges in the state and eventually reached the Karnataka High Court. The Karnataka High Court concluded that because the hijab is not a fundamental practice in Islam, it cannot be afforded constitutional protection. When this lawsuit involving the hijab was going on in Karnataka, Muslim students’ rage turned to protests, which resulted in repercussions for them. Many girls choose not to take the exams out of personal preference.

Discrimination against Muslim students in schools often disregards their achievements and struggles, disregarding their desire to pursue education in an inclusive environment. Enrolment and attendance figures show only a small percentage of Muslim women can get into universities.

The gender gap in education among Indian Muslims is a complicated topic driven by historical, social, and economic reasons. Despite advances, Muslim women continue to fall behind men in educational attainment, which is worsened by regional dynamics, caste, and class inequalities. Differences in literacy rates and educational achievement between areas are examples of regional dynamics, whereas caste dynamics impact educational chances. Muslim women who belong to financially stable households are more likely to pursue higher education, which is influenced by class relations. These variables, when combined, produce a multi-layered disadvantage for Muslim women from lower-caste and lower-income families. Early marriage in Muslim communities often leads to girls dropping out of school to take on domestic responsibilities, thereby denying them education and perpetuating poverty. This acts as another obstacle to their education. Also, traditional gender stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes hinder girls’ education pursuits and limit their aspirations, as they are often confined to domestic roles and devalue intellectual pursuits.

Indian state governments have implemented policies to support Muslim women’s education, such as the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship, and Nai Roshni. However, these initiatives may not be fully effective due to a lack of awareness, socioeconomic constraints, inadequate infrastructure, and cultural barriers. The cancellation of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship would have an immediate effect on Muslim women’s education.

Though there have been several obstacles in the way of Indian Muslim women completely developing themselves. However, there are examples of outstanding Muslim women who overcame societal barriers to achieve positions of prominence. One such personality is Begum Rokeya Hussain, a prominent Bengali writer, social worker, and advocate for women’s rights, established the Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School in Kolkata in 1911, one of the first for Muslim girls in the region, challenging traditional norms and promoting women’s rights. Begum Sharifa Hamid Ali, a member of the Indian National Congress and a Rajya Sabha member for 12 years, is another important individual in strengthening women’s rights and fostering women’s education. Begum Sharifa Hamid ali was a staunch advocate for women’s rights with a focus on education. She served as the President of the All India Women’s Conference. She also served as one of the founding members of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The pathway to educational equality for Indian Muslim women remains difficult. Despite attempts to enhance access to education, inequities may remain, particularly in distant or marginalized communities. Resolving these challenges necessitates comprehensive initiatives that address not just regulations and infrastructure but also cultural attitudes and institutional hurdles impeding these persons’ educational advancement.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.