Be it burqa or bikini, women have the fundamental right to choose their dress.
But can one, in exercise of her fundamental right, wear a bikini at a place which prescribes a different dress code? She cannot.
A woman will not be allowed to enter a temple or a mosque in a bikini. She will not be allowed entry to a school, college, a court of law, or any public institution.
Now, let us come to the controversial topic. Can a woman exercise her fundamental right to wear a burqa (or any other religious dress for that matter) in places which prescribe a different secular dress code? Some argue that they should be allowed to. Why? They say it is an essential religious practice.
So, according to them, it is Article 25 of the Constitution which protects a woman who wants to wear a burqa.
But it does not come to the aid of a woman in a bikini. Why? It is not a religious practice, let alone an essential one.
What does Article 25(1) say? 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.
Let us imagine that Article 25 (in its absolute sense) applies in a college? Can a student profess, practise and propagate religion in a secular institution like college? If I say that performing pooja at noon is my religious belief, can I invoke Article 25 and ask the school management to allow me to do it? Or I believe that Christianity is the only true religion, can I propagate it among my classmates while I am inside the college campus? Interpreting Article 25 out of context will lead to these absurd situations.
Article 25 has a clause (2) which reads as follows: "Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law—(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice."
Apart from public order, morality and health, clause (2) enables the state to make a law to regulate and restrict a secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.
Dressing is a secular activity since people of all religions [and atheists] engage in that activity.
Burqa/Hijab may be associated with Islam. So if a school puts in place a dress code and restricts people from wearing a religious dress- can a person say that it violates the fundamental right to religion?
Article 25(2) protects such a regulation. What is the objective of clause(2)? The makers of the constitution realized that there are many secular activities associated with religion. If the state is not allowed to regulate such activities, it would lead to an uncontrollable situation.
The funniest part of the controversy is the narrative of self-claimed liberals that burqa or hijab is an essential part of Islam. Prescribing a dress code for women is regressive by any standard. Instead of urging women to come out from this, the Indian liberals are pushing them into it.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.