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The Karnataka hijab issue: Uniforms, protests and rights!8 min read

February 7, 2022 5 min read

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The Karnataka hijab issue: Uniforms, protests and rights!8 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Imagine showing up for class every day, but being marked absent for almost two months. You’re there, on time, but on record, you never attended. Frustrating, right? This is what some pre-university (equivalent of a high school) students at a government college in Udupi, Karnataka have had to endure. Since December 31, a group of girls have been barred from entering their classroom because of what they wear.

The students protest outside their college. Photo: Indian Express

Six teenage students have alleged that they have been barred from classes for weeks because they insist on wearing a hijab.

We all go to college every day despite not being allowed inside the class so that later we are not told we don’t have adequate attendance [to sit for exams]

One of the students.

A hijab is a head covering worn in public, especially in the presence of men, by some Muslim women.

The college says it has only asked the students to remove the hijab inside the classroom as it does not comply with the uniform norms — they can still wear it around the campus. The six girls wear the college uniform — a loose kurta with pants and a dupatta — but say they should also be allowed to cover their hair.

The girls sit outside their class after being barred from entering. Photo: Indian Express

One of the students had reportedly said that they wear the hijab in class because they have some male teachers, and that they need to cover their hair in front of men.

One of the students, Almas AH, told BBC Hindi that in the first year of college, the students were told that their parents had signed a form that prevented them from wearing a hijab. Students were away from colleges for months during the pandemic. When they returned in end-December, they were not allowed to enter the classroom, she said.

The six students also complained that they were not being allowed to talk in Urdu, Arabic and Beary languages. In protest, the girls stood outside the classroom for three days. According to the students, even though their parents approached the principal, he refused to discuss the issue.

What does the principal say?

College principal Rudre Gowda alleged that the six women were purposely creating problems and that the rest of the Muslim students — around 70 — had no objections to the rule.

He said that initially, around a dozen women wanted to wear the hijab, but the number reduced after he spoke to their parents. “All we are saying is that when their classes begin, they should remove the hijab,” he was quoted as saying.

He added that it was necessary for the teacher to see the student’s face, and that the uniform helped them ensure there was no discrimination among students.

Gowda has also alleged that the girls are using social media to gain sympathy — he said they often arrive at college after the gates have closed and take photos of themselves, some of which have gone viral.

The government steps in

The Vidhan Souda is the hub of political activity in the state of Karnataka. Photo: Deccan Herald

A meeting was held on January 19 with students, parents, government officials and the management of the Udupi PU college attending, but no conclusion was reached. The next day, five college students started protesting outside the school by holding placards against the decision not to allow them to attend classes wearing hijabs. Following protests, the state government set up an expert committee to look into the issue.

Matter reaches the court

A Muslim girl from Udupi filed a writ petition on January 31 in the Karnataka High Court, seeking a declaration that wearing a hijab is a fundamental right. The petition said the Constitution of India granted the freedom to profess, practise and propagate any religion.

Writ Petition is an order by a higher court to a lower court or courts, directing them to do something or stop them from doing something. Writ is a form of written command in the name of the court. It directs you to act in a specific way.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. Photo: Economic Times

On February 5, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai held a meeting with top government officials and Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh on the issue, and asked all educational institutions to follow the existing uniform rules till the high court rules. The Karnataka High Court will hear the petition on February 8.

The constitution has given the right to practice any religion which means one can wear any clothes according to their religion. Prohibiting ‘Hijab-wearing students from entering school is a violation of fundamental rights

Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah

What’s happening with the girls now?

The college the girls attend in Udupi. Photo: BBC

On February 7, the students were allowed entry into the college campus, but were seated in separate classrooms, as per news agency ANI.

No lessons were given to these students. They were allowed to enter the premises merely to prevent overcrowding at the gate, according to college officials.

“We won’t remove our hijab until high court orders. They (college administration) won’t allow us in classrooms with hijab so we’ll sit outside in halls. Classes not going on for us, we’re just sitting here,” a student of the PU college told ANI on Monday.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and Education Minister BC Nagesh on Monday urged the students not to get provoked and follow government orders regarding the ongoing row.

BC Nagesh, Karnataka’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister said, “Law of the land has to be followed. If they’ve to study, then they must adhere to dress code prescribed by schools/administration.”

What do you think about this issue? Should the students be allowed to enter the classroom though they are apparently breaking the uniform code? Do you think the college is being unfair and discriminatory towards these students?


Sources: BBC, NDTV, India Today, Indian Express, The Quint

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