Catholic nun can't take exam in India because of her veil

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Catholic nun can’t take exam in India because of her veil

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara


A Catholic nun. (National Museum of the U.S. Navy under a Creative Commons Licence)

Last week, a Catholic nun was not allowed to take a medical entrance examination, the All-India Pre-Medical Entrance Test (AIPMT). She was wearing her religious ‘habit’, a nun's veil and a cross around her neck. They did not stop Sister Seba for religious reasons. Most people respect Catholic nuns in Kerala. But she couldn’t take the exam because a lot of other people have been cheating.

They introduced a dress code because some people, not the nun, had secretly taken important papers into the exam. They really wanted to pass the entrance exams for the top medical college. Earlier last week, the Kerala High Court allowed two Muslim girls to wear a headscarf and dresses with full sleeves for the exam – but only if one of the people responsible could ‘frisk’ them (search their body and clothes) if necessary.

There were big problems with the exam. People said some students found out the questions before the exam. And that students had secretly taken electronic equipment into the exam so they could cheat. So the Education Board cancelled the examinations after they happened. They then told candidates that they must not wear anything like ‘belts, caps, scarves, etc’ in the examination hall. The Supreme Court said students were not allowed to wear a hijab. They said ‘your faith won’t disappear’ if you don’t wear a hijab on one day.

We know it is difficult for them to organize exams to stop students cheating. But they could be more understanding.

Sister Seba, the nun, asked if she could sit in a separate, private room to take her exams but they said no. So she did not take the exam. She wasted a whole year. So did the Muslim women in hijabs.

It’s a difficult problem. In India different minority groups have different personal laws. Muslims, Christians and Parsis have their own marriage, inheritance and other personal laws. Our constitution gave them those rights. But more people now want the same laws for everyone.

In my opinion, it would be enough to search the veiled women before they went into the exam.

But I think it’s funny that many of my friends, Hindu, Christian or Parsi would never think Christian or Jain nuns with veils are strange. It's normal. People are comfortable with it. In India, religious people get a lot of respect. But there are still many religious scandals. And there are more problems with the hijab (headscarf) or burkha than with nuns who wear veils.

We need to ask why. We are now starting to have separate buses, taxis and trains for women travelling to work. Maybe they will soon have separate examination halls for women – veiled or unveiled. I think this is not good for the development of women's freedom. But I think most women I know, except for strong feminist friends, prefer to be safe.

It's quite a sad comment on our society really – for women's rights and accepting the rights of 'the other'.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).