A student of homeopathy has moved the Bombay High Court against her college, accusing it of not allowing her to wear a hijab (headscarf) and barring her from sitting for examinations on the ground of having low attendance.
The petitioner, a resident of Bandra in Mumbai, moved court on Monday seeking permission to appear for the first-year examinations of Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) course at Sai Homeopathic Medical College (SHMC) in Bhiwandi beginning June 1.
The petition stated that the woman had cleared her Common Entrance Test and secured admission in SHMC on December 14, 2016. While the session started on December 27, 2016, she started attending college from the next day.
The petitioner added that “to her utter shock and dismay, the college started coercing all Muslim girls to remove their hijab”. Alleging that it started “threatening” Muslim girls to either stop wearing hijab or attend classes, the student said several girls either took off their hijab or left the college. But the petitioner refused to do so.
The petitioner said that she and her parents told the college authorities that it was not possible for her to stop wearing hijab since it is a religious practice. She added that they approached several college authorities to resolve the issue. On January 11, 2017, they wrote to the Union Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH).
On January 20, 2017, the ministry allegedly wrote to the college stating that it “cannot compel a student to not wear hijab, since it is disrespect to social justice,” while directing it to immediately resolve the issue. However, she was asked to leave college, the petitioner said. On March 2, 2017, the student’s father wrote to state Medical Education and Drugs Department (MEDD). While the department directed the college authorities to meet the petitioner, no initiative was taken by the institute, the student alleged. The father again informed the department, following which, the college authorities were asked to appear before Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) officials for a hearing on May 15, 2017.
The college, however, did not attend the hearing, the petition stated. Another hearing was conducted on June 2, 2017, in which the college representative told MUHS that “the management has stipulated a uniform dress code for boys and girls, hence the request of the student cannot be accepted”.
The petition said that the MEDD had intervened through several letters, but the college did not allow the student to attend classes. The petitioner also sent a legal notice to SHMC on October 13, 2017 and wrote to the State Human Rights Commission on October 30, 2017.
She then approached the HC, which on March 12, this year, recorded the statement of the college and MUHS authorities. They told the court that the petitioner would be allowed to take repeat classes and sit for first-year BHMS examination “as and when eligible for the same”. The petitioner was allowed inside the college only after the authorities received the court order on March 19, the petition stated.
According to the petition, while repeat classes were conducted by the college between March 2 and April 18, the petitioner could only attend classes held between March 19 to April 18. Out of these, she missed three days of classes due to “health reasons”.
On March 27, the student sought permission from the college to submit her examination form so that she could sit for her papers from June 1. She was, however, not allowed to submit the form. The college allegedly told her that it has approached MUHS, seeking guidance for permitting her to appear in the examinations. The petitioner stated that MUHS told her that it has been directed by the HC “to act in accordance with law” and so, she is being denied permission to sit for examination, as she had failed to meet the mandatory attendance criteria.
The petitioner told the court that MUHS has to consider that she could not attend college for the entire academic year. The plea added that “non attendance is not due to failure of the petitioner to attend classes but the same is due to the arbitrary behaviour of the college and hence, the petitioner ought to have been attending the classes regularly.”
Lawyer Deepak Salvi, who had appeared for the SHMC in a previous hearing, said: “A previous order from the court says that if MUHS is approached by the college for any permission in respect to the petitioner, the university would consider the same in accordance with rules and regulations.”
He, however, claimed that the college was not opposed to the petitioner wearing hijab. “The college had allowed her to wear hijab but she was insisting on wearing a full burqa. If she wore a burqa, it would have been difficult for her to wear an apron, which is required in some of the classes.”