WITH THE Karnataka High Court set to hear a plea on Tuesday against the hijab ban in several junior colleges, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai called on students to adhere to rules issued by the state government on uniforms even as a college allowed students wearing the hijab to enter the premises but seated them in a separate room.
The hijab ban has been questioned in the High Court by a group of students from Udupi’s government junior college. The students have said in a plea that the ban violates the right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.
Bommai, who was in Delhi on Monday to mainly discuss the expansion of his Cabinet, refused to comment on the controversy, which has seen Muslim students kept out of classes for wearing the hijab. “Since the matter is in court, I do not want to discuss it,” he said.
“For now, the instructions on uniforms issued in the circular (of February 5) should be followed until the High Court decides on the issue. Exams are coming up and all students must follow the circular. Students must maintain peace,” he said.
The CM was referring to the state circular that virtually directed colleges to maintain status quo on uniform norms for the current academic year. The circular invoked a section of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, which allows the state to issue directions to colleges on curriculum that maintains social harmony and upholds Constitutional values.
The controversy began last month with six girls of a Udupi college protesting a move by college authorities to prevent them from attending classes in hijabs. It subsequently spread to other colleges in Udupi and other districts, with several of them declaring a holiday on Monday as some students continued to wear hijabs and were countered by others wearing saffron shawls.
On Monday, a junior college in Udupi’s Kundapura allowed 22 hijab-wearing students to enter the campus but seated them in a separate classroom. The students had been denied entry for wearing the hijab on Friday and Saturday, and had staged protests on the road outside the college.
Education Minister B C Nagesh said the students were allowed to enter the college to prevent the “nuisance” caused by their protest on the road. “The college has allowed them to sit in a room. There were no separate classes for them. We do not want those girls to sit on roads, and it is Indian culture that we respect women. We don’t have Pakistan’s tradition. The students come to college to gain knowledge and they need to follow the law of the land…”
Speaking to reporters, one of the hijab-wearing students said: “We were made to sit in a separate room and were not allowed to attend any class. No one taught us, either. It (hijab) is part of Islamic tradition and it has been followed for ages. Our seniors in the college were wearing it and we do not know how suddenly the government decided to ban it.”
Meanwhile, a group of students at IDSG government college in Chikkamagaluru entered the campus wearing blue shawls and shouting ‘Jai Bhim’ slogans, and expressed their support for students wearing the hijab.
Other incidents of confrontation between students were reported from a few colleges in Vijayapura, Chikkaballapur, Chikkamagaluru and Haveri districts. In Haveri, members of the Students Federation of India (SFI) entered the government first grade college with the Tricolour and said they opposed the “political conspiracy” and the way colleges were being “polluted” by a “religious divide”.