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Protect girls’ rights, access to study: Opposition

While the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, RJD, NCP and the BSP argued that the Constitution guarantees citizens the fundamental right to practise their religion, Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi struck a different note.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: February 6, 2022 6:16:55 am
Kundapura: A faculty member talks with the students wearing hijab, after the school authorities denied them entry for wearing hijab in Kundapura of Udupi district, Saturday, Feb 5, 2022. (PTI Photo)

THE right to wear religious attire, the right to education and the right to equality — Opposition parties Saturday invoked these principles to criticise Karnataka colleges that have refused entry to students wearing the hijab.

While the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, RJD, NCP and the BSP argued that the Constitution guarantees citizens the fundamental right to practise their religion, Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi struck a different note.

She said that school is a place for education and students should be students, not “religious brand ambassadors.”

Speaking on the issue for the first time, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “By letting students’ hijab come in the way of their education, we are robbing the future of the daughters of India. Ma Saraswati gives knowledge to all. She doesn’t differentiate. #SaraswatiPuja.”

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His tweet Saturday – when Saraswati Puja was observed — appeared carefully crafted reflecting the anxiety in the Congress about a possible backlash.

Said his colleague Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge: “They have been going to schools wearing headscarves for decades. Nobody had any objection earlier. Now why are they objecting? They are doing this to divert attention. There are no jobs, they are not able to control inflation, they are using areas like Udupi and Mangalore as experiment grounds. If it’s a success, they can replicate it elsewhere in the state.”

“The courts are dealing with it. The constitutional rights of the people must be protected. That is our position,” CPM’s general secretary Sitaram Yechury told The Indian Express.

Senior RJD leader and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha invoked the Constitution. “The hijab is not a barrier, the barrier is in the minds of those who are objecting to it,” Jha said. “I teach in a university, I have had several students over the years who wore the hijab. It never occurred to me that I should be concerned about it. We must look at how the Constitution, particularly Article 25 (right to freedom of religion) speaks about it. Have we now decided to jettison every idea which is dear to this nation simply because you want to create a new barrier between people and communities every day to deflect attention?”

Said Trinamool Congress’s Sushmita Dev: “As long as there are personal laws, customs and traditions in this country, no one can tell people what to do and what to wear. It is a part of their culture and their custom. You have to respect it.”

Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi disagreed.

“When we were in school, uniform was above all religious affiliations. If a school is setting a norm, why are our politicians and religious leaders getting into it and making it about religion? Let’s say even for a club entry if you are not allowed to wear a sandal…then you follow those rules. School is a place for education and every school follows a norm of a uniform. In Maharashtra, we had the same uniform: canvas school bag, same canvas shoes, pleated hair…we went as students…we didn’t go as religious ambassadors,” she told The Indian Express.

“Of course, democracy gives you the freedom to choose; after school hours you can choose whatever you want to wear…If you are talking about a secular nation, a secular nation has to abide by the rules and norms,” she added.

For BSP’s Lok Sabha MP Kunwar Danish Ali, the move to block girls because of their hijab undermines the Modi government’s plank of beti bachao, beti padhao. “As a country, we have been trying hard to change the mindset of a large section of people who believe that a girl child’s education is a second priority. It is a fact that education of girl children is still not a top priority in many communities, including Dalits, tribals and minorities, especially Muslims,” he said.

NCP’s Majeed Memon said the controversy is hardening fault-lines with non-Muslim girls wearing saffron shawls to protest. “This seeks to divide the students into two different communities which is very unfortunate,” he said.
More so, when students’ education was hit hard by the pandemic. “Now on resumption, the girls should not be made to suffer further on the issue of hijab. Until the government committee comes out with a decision one way or the other, it would be desirable that the authorities let them attend classes. However, Muslim girls and parents must adhere to the rules of uniform,” he said.

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