“Head coverings tend to be more common among older, married, more religious and less educated women”
Amid controversy over Muslim headscarves after a high school in the southern Indian state of Karnataka banned hijabs in classrooms, a Washington think tank says head coverings are relatively common among Indian women.
About six in ten women in India (61%) say they keep the practice of covering their heads outside their homes, the Pew Research Center reported citing a survey conducted by it in 2019-2020.
This includes a majority of Hindu women (59%) and roughly equal shares of Muslim (89%) and Sikh (86%) women – although the exact type of headgear can vary widely between and within groups religious, he said.
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The Pew investigation comes as the Karnataka High Court deliberates on the legality of the school hijab ban amid ongoing protests in India over the wearing of Muslim headscarves in schools.
The Center’s survey only included adults aged 18 and over and does not show what proportion of school-aged girls wear head coverings.
India’s adult population is 81% Hindu and 13% Muslim, according to the last census taken in 2011. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains make up most of the remaining 6%, the survey notes.
However, there are regional differences among Indian women when it comes to head coverings, the survey noted. The practice is particularly common in the largely Hindi northern, central and eastern parts of the country.
In the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, about nine out of ten women say they wear a head covering in public. In contrast, fewer women in the South report covering their heads in public, with only 16% in the state of Tamil Nadu.
These regional differences are largely due to Hindu women, as Muslim women tend to keep the practice of covering their heads in public regardless of the region in which they live. This leads to big differences between Muslims and Hindus in the South in particular.
In the South, 83% of Muslim women say they cover their heads, compared to 22% of Hindu women. In the Northern region, meanwhile, roughly equal shares of Muslim (85%) and Hindu (82%) women report covering their heads in public, according to the survey.
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In the south, the state of Karnataka stands out for its relatively high share of women wearing head coverings. More than four in ten women in Karnataka (44%) say they wear one, compared to 26% in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, 29% in Telangana and even fewer in the states of Kerala (17%) and Tamil Nadu (16 %)
A majority of Muslim women in Karnataka say they cover their heads (71%), compared to 42% of Hindu women who say this.
Nationally, head coverings tend to be more common among older, married, more religious, and less educated women. The practice is also more prevalent in rural areas, according to the survey.
But in the South, age, education and other demographic differences are less of a determinant of whether or not women cover their heads. Religion, however, makes a difference: Muslim women and more devout women are more likely to cover their heads in public.
Among Southern women who say religion is very important in their lives, 29% say they cover their heads in public, compared to 18% who say religion is less important in their lives.
Headscarf wearing also varies by political affiliation, Pew said. Even though some supporters of the hijab ban have been described as supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party, women with favorable attitudes towards the ruling party in India are actually more likely to wear head coverings. in public than women who do not favor the ruling party. .
Read: In India, head coverings are worn by most women, including about six in ten Hindus (February 22, 2022)
This is true at the national level, and in the South, according to the survey. Across India, 66% of women who have a positive opinion of the ruling BJP party say they cover their heads outside their homes, compared to 53% among those who have an unfavorable opinion of the party.
This correlation may – at least in part – be related to the fact that BJP supporters tend to be more religious, he said.