Open letter regarding religious freedom in India
To: The honourable Prime Ministers of the UK and India
We write to you today as members and representatives of Indian diaspora civil society organisations and, most importantly as British Indians, to express our deep concern at the recent tensions in India over the rights of Muslim girls to wear a hijab within educational establishments.
A few days ago, Karnataka’s Chief Minister made the decision to close schools and colleges following an escalation of the issue with reports of violence on some college campuses. This was followed by an Indian court ordering students in Karnataka to stop wearing religious garments in class until it makes a final ruling on whether schools can ban Muslim head scarves.
This issue does not relate simply to one religion or one part of India.
Article 25 of the Indian Constitution states “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” The ruling Amnah Bint Basheer vs CBSE 2016 in the Kerala High Court held that wearing a headscarf and long sleeves for a Muslim woman is “an essential religious practice” which has the protection of Article 25.
According to Article 14, the State cannot refuse equality to any person and it can neither decline the protection of individual laws within the territorial boundary of India. Article 21 states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”
Dr Sarfraz Ashraf, Board Advisor of Bridge India, said “It is sad that in a democratic and secular country, girls are being harassed based on what they are wearing. This will have an adverse effect on women’s education, empowerment and overall development of the country. Institutions across India should seek at all times to be consistent with India’s constitutional values, which assure its citizens justice, equality and liberty.”
Param Singh MBE, Vice Chair of City Sikhs, said “when Indian Punjabis started moving to the UK in large numbers in the 1960s and 70s many of the men wearing turbans were unable to get jobs within the public and private sector due to dress code policies which did not recognise religious head covering or keeping a beard. Following a number of legal interventions in 1982 Britain’s highest court, the House of Lords, ruled that Sikhs were entitled to protection under the Race Relations Act which effectively gave them the right to wear beards and turbans in all walks of life. This was 40 years ago and today we see many diversity strands both encouraged and promoted in the UK. My hope is that India with her thousands of years of wisdom gifted by Yogis, Rishis, Sants, Gurus and God incarnate beings continues to honour the tradition of diversity of ideas, pluralism and religious harmony across all walks of life. We are stronger together with all our diverse views and lifestyles.”
• Bridge India
• British South Indians
• City Sikhs Foundation
• Indian Workers’ Association GB
• Cllr Rehana Ameer, Entrepreneur; Councillor, City of London Corporation
• Yousuf Bhailok, Entrepreneur, community activist and philanthropist; Founder member and Former Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
• Priyajit Debsakar, Author and geo-political analyst
• Umar Farooqui, Lawyer; Spokesperson, Maharashtra State Nationalist Congress Party
• Ram Gidoomal CBE, Chairman, South Asian Development Partnership
• Gopal D. Patel, Co-Founder and Director, Bhumi Global; Co-chair, UN Multi-faith Advisory Council
• Mandy Sanghera, International human rights activist
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bridge India is a progressive non-profit think tank based in the UK and dedicated to discourse on public policy. For more information about Bridge India please visit https://www.bridgeindia.org.uk/
City Sikhs is an award-winning progressive UK based Sikh charity which strives to build a cohesive and inclusive society in which individuality is respected and diversity is celebrated. For more information about City Sikhs please visit https://www.citysikhs.com/
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