The notion that the state can impinge on citizens what they can eat, wear, and believe is old. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has over the years sought to impose one identity on Pakistan – an Islamic identity whereby the state defines who is a Muslim, what they can or cannot eat, what they can believe and even what they can wear.
Pakistan’s human rights activists and civil society have fought a constant battle against these steady and consistent encroachment by the state.
It in this context that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has criticised the notification issued by the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, “imposing a ‘dress code’ on its students that makes it compulsory, among other things, for women to wear a scarf or dupatta, and bars students from attending class if they do not conform to the dress code. In a statement issued today, HRCP has said that ‘Freedom of choice lies at the heart of human rights. Imposing a dress code that clearly projects a regressive notion of what women “should” wear in public is needless and absurd. ‘Universities are meant as institutions of higher learning and as places that enable students to think for themselves. The UET notification infringes on what is a fundamental democratic right – the right to choose. Moreover, to suggest – as the university’s administration is reported to have done – that students from remote areas do not know “how to dress” is patronising and does not justify the imposition of an archaic dress code for women or men. People’s right to receive an education must not be hampered by so small a consideration as what they choose to wear.”