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Mangaluru students and officials a worried lot as hijab row rears its head again

As an education department official says the ‘bureaucracy and the academia are suffocating’ because of the politically motivated controversy, the University College principal says the decision to ban headscarfves was taken ‘to be on the safer side’.

Written by Kiran Parashar | Bengaluru |
Updated: May 30, 2022 6:56:33 am
Students of Mangaluru University College stage a protest urging the college authorities to ban wearing of hijab inside classrooms. (Screengrab)

“I am the daughter of a fishmonger and a first-generation college girl from my family. Now the college authorities are afraid of a piece of cloth that I wear,” said Fathima Shazma, a first-year journalism student at University College in Mangaluru.

While the hijab controversy was raging in coastal Karnataka’s Udupi district, the constituent college of Mangalore University was never affected as the students were allowed to wear headscarves matching the colour of the uniform. But last week, after protesters backed by the ABVP, the RSS’s student wing, threatened to wear saffron shawls if headscarves are allowed in classrooms, the situation has changed.

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Shazma is now worried if she could pursue her dream of becoming a journalist. “Not many colleges in Mangaluru offer journalism and the fee is very low here. The college used to allow us to wear headscarves, but all of a sudden they have denied us entry. What if my family won’t send me to college?” she said.

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About 44 of the 1,600-odd students studying in BA, B Sc, B Com, BBA and other classes at the college are Muslim girls. A few students said they were either planning to drop out as families are forcing them to get married, or to seek transfer to another college.

For Gowsiya, in her final semester of B Sc, it is a matter of another six months but it came as a rude shock to her. “I chose this college because the hijab was allowed. It doesn’t mean we wore black headscarves; we used to wrap the uniform shawl around our heads. All of a sudden, the college denied entry to students wearing headscarves. Though it is clear that the Karnataka High Court order was for pre-university students, the authorities are misleading the students saying they are following high court orders.”

According to Gowsiya, many Muslim parents have stopped sending their children to the college. “When we spoke to the college principal and other staff, they expressed their helplessness and it clearly shows they are caught in the politics. Also, some of them tried to mislead us saying they were following the Karnataka High Court order, which nowhere refers to the higher education department,” she said.

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Speaking to indianexpress.com, Mangalore University vice-chancellor P Subrahmanya Yadapadithaya said the syndicate at a May 14 meeting decided that the hijab should not be allowed on campus. “Though the high court order was not applicable, as a preventive measure, we have decided to ban the hijab inside classrooms.

Asked why the university syndicate discussed the matter, he said, “We do not have clarity over the high court order. It is really a painful decision as an academician, but we have taken a decision to be on the safer side.”

“The enrolment of Muslim girl students have increased in the university and it is really a good development, but decisions are taken in a cloud of confusion. We are ready to counsel the girl students and also if someone wants to get transferred, we are going to help them. Only the higher education department can clear the confusion,” he said.

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G Kumar Naik, additional chief secretary in the department, chose not to comment on the issue. However, a senior official said many department officials were not happy with the state of affairs. “Dress should not have been a major issue in the education system. This is really a sad development. The bureaucracy and the academia are suffocating because of the politics in this entire episode,” the official said.

According to sources, when elections were held to the Mangalore University Student Union (Hampankatte campus) a month ago, the Campus Front of India (CFI), won three seats for the first time. The ABVP used to win all the seats as the Congress-backed National Students Union of India (NSUI) was weak on the campus. The CFI is the student wing of the hardline Muslim outfit Popular Front of India.

CFI state president Athavulla Punjalkatte said, “The hijab is no more a religious issue but a political issue that the BJP wants to keep alive. The BJP government is mired in several scams and to keep people out of it, they are using it (the hijab row). The CFI deliberately kept away from the protests so that the public would get to know the BJP’s agenda of using communal politics to cover up their corruption.”

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai recently said the hijab issue had been resolved at the syndicate meeting through deliberations. “The court has delivered its orders on the hijab issue. Everyone should obey the court orders. The students should follow the orders of the college development committees (CDC) in pre-university colleges and the college administrative boards or principals in colleges that do not have CDCs. In universities, syndicate decisions should be adhered to. It is better for students to focus on their studies than on these controversies.”

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First published on: 29-05-2022 at 08:31:01 pm

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