Updated: January 29, 2022 7:29:45 am
“IF THE government thinks wearing the hijab is a crime, and does not allow my daughter to attend the final exams, let her stay at home… We want our daughter to study well and excel in life but why are her rights being snatched?”
It’s a decision driven by despair. His daughter, a Class 12 student, is among six Muslim girls who have been denied entry into their classrooms at a Government Pre-University College in Karnataka’s Udupi since January 1 for wearing the hijab.
“We are being treated like criminals for demanding the fundamental right to practise our religion. My classmates were not allowed to talk to me and if someone was seen talking to us, they were pulled up,” said the student.
Ever since these six students were kept out of classrooms, the issue has been gaining steam until the college in communally polarised coastal Karnataka was ordered closed last week by local authorities on account of a Covid outbreak.
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The college development committee, which is headed by BJP MLA K Raghupathi Bhat, has now “suggested” that students wearing the hijab to college must opt for online classes until the issue is resolved by the BJP state government.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Karnataka Education Minister B C Nagesh said: “We have ordered for the formation of a committee to look into the uniform matter. We cannot change it for one college. Once the committee submits its report, a call will be taken. We have asked all the schools and colleges across the state to maintain the status quo.”
The state’s Department of Undergraduate Education does not prescribe uniforms for its colleges, and individual government colleges have come up with their own rules in this regard.
At the Udupi college, the students claim the hijab was allowed in class till a few years ago. “But for the past few years, they (college officials) have been objecting to it and asking us to remove it inside the classroom. We have been wanting to wear the hijab in class but were repeatedly denied permission. We decided to go ahead now,” said one of them.
Rudre Gowda, the college principal, says the rule on hijab has been in force since the college got established in 1985. “According to the rule, the students are allowed to wear the hijab till they reach their desks. Once the class starts, they have to remove the hijab. This issue started only at the end of December and we don’t know why,” he said.
There is no state government directive regarding a ban on the hijab at any of its institutions. Bengaluru-based lawyer Maitreyi Krishnan points to a Kerala High Court ruling in 2016 — on a case over a dress code for the all-India pre-medical entrance test — that banning the hijab would violate article 25(1) of the Constitution on religious freedom. “There are essential rights in each faith and that cannot be denied,” Krishnan said.
In Udupi, teachers and local leaders feel the issue has gone beyond their control. They are now concerned that the controversy could spread to other schools and colleges in the district since radical groups have entered the fray “to generate political mileage”.
The Campus Front of India (CFI), the student wing of Popular Front of India (PFI), has supported the students’ demand. But Hindu Jagarana Vedike (HJV) general secretary Prakash Kukkehalli has warned that Hindu students will attend classes with saffron shawls if the hijab is allowed.
“We do not know how this issue cropped up but if this is not addressed, it is going to spread to other schools and colleges, polluting the environment of educational institutions,” said Abdul Rehman Razvi Kalkatta, secretary of the Muslim co-ordination committee for Udupi district.
The college has a strength of about 700 students, including 76 Muslim students. On Wednesday, MLA Bhat held a meeting with Muslim leaders and the principal, and suggested that students unwilling to attend classes without the hijab can take up online classes.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhat said: “There are educational institutions with their own sets of rules, and this college has set its own rules. There is nothing on paper but it has been followed for years.”
According to local leaders and officials, the roots of the controversy lie in the growing political clout in the region of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of PFI. Last month, the SDPI won three seats in the Udupi urban local body polls, making inroads into the traditional Congress vote base.
The students, however, insist their demand has no political base. “We approached them (CFI) to support the cause since it is our fundamental right,” one of the six students said.
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