Time is up for hijab ban
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Time is up for hijab ban

The director of Anuban Pattani School had little choice but to reverse his ban on the hijab for students, or resign.
The director of Anuban Pattani School had little choice but to reverse his ban on the hijab for students, or resign.

The director of a school in Pattani province in the deep South has re-ignited an issue that many thought was settled 30 years ago. He has banned the wearing of the Muslim head scarf, the hijab, at the large and respected Anuban Pattani School. The order is clearly illegal and a violation of Ministry of Education regulations, as well as the constitutional rights of the students.

The director, Prachak Chusri, must reverse this ban or suffer the legal consequences. This was made clear at a meeting yesterday, chaired by Surachet Chaiwong, the deputy minister of education. Both Gen Surachet and representatives of ministry's Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) articulated the long-standing Obec rule that female students can wear the hijab, subject only to dress-code regulations.

His institution is large, and the top school of its class in the province. Even more ironically, given this reactionary order to try to ban the hijab, it is practically in the dead centre of the Muslim-majority provinces of the region.

To try to justify the unjustifiable, Mr Prachak resorted to a tired trope, long rubbished by governments, parents and religious authorities alike. The school, he says, is within the compound of Wat Nopawongsaram, and so Buddhist principles must prevail. Of course, there is no Buddhist stricture against the wearing of a head scarf, or the display by respectful people of symbols of any religion.

As the constitution, the Ministry of Education and the ministry's Obec have decided numerous times, the location of a school within a temple is no grounds to ban the hijab or any respectful dress. The 1989 ministry directive evolving from a dispute in Yala province allows girls to wear the hijab in any government-run school. There are legal and community agreement that the headscarf must be a plain colour and not clash with the school uniform. Most girls in the South who choose to wear the accessory, for example, wear a white hijab.

The hijab does not interfere with any work or school activities. International Olympic-class athletes wear it, and so do women across the country. In contrast to Mr Chusak's community-dividing claim, no Thai, including a student, has to ask for permission to wear any symbol of religion, gender, national origin or the like. Every Thai has the guaranteed twin rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Specifically, it takes very special circumstances such as obvious concerns regarding safety to legally interfere with dress or symbols.

It is unclear why Obec has even allowed Anuban Pattani School director Mr Prachak to violate the law and clear regulations for this long. The specific issue of schoolgirls' wearing of the hijab was settled 30 years ago. The hijab is legal in all Thai classrooms, all the time.

Mr Chusak will presumably reveal whether he was acting out of malice or ignorance. At least two recalcitrant and apparently anti-Muslim school directors have tried to subvert the clear law and policies on this issue. In January, 2012, the director of Wat Nong Chok school in eastern Bangkok banned the hijab. Then-Education Minister Woravat Au-apinyakul intervened personally and dramatically, taking a sledgehammer to smash a symbolically labelled "wall of prejudice". Just three years later, the stubborn director at Ban Naiyong school in Phangnga tried to ban the hijab. Given no choice, the ministry removed her from the post.

Mr Prachak of Anuban Pattani School has time to save his face and job. Patient officials of the Education Ministry, the religious leadership of the South and the National Human Rights Commission have tolerated his ban. The day now has come that he must reverse his decision. Otherwise, he must suffer the same shameful transfer or dismissal as his divisive law-breaking colleagues.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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