After Udupi, more Karnataka colleges close doors to students wearing hijab

A video of authorities of a PU college in Kundapura closing the gates on students wearing the hijab has surfaced, even as the issue remains unresolved in Udupi.
Kundapura Hijab issue
Kundapura Hijab issue
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On Thursday, February 3, over 20 girls from the Government Pre University College in Kundapur in Udupi district of Karnataka were suddenly stopped at the gates of their college by their own lecturers, just as they were coming in for their morning classes. The upset girls asked the teachers why they were doing this, reminded them that it’s a question of their education, that their exams were just two months away; but the teachers refused to let them in, closing the gates on their faces, even as they let others come through. The reason: the college had suddenly decided to deny entry to students wearing a hijab.

“We are students, we have been wearing the hijab to college for so long,” the girls are heard saying, in a video of the incident that has been widely shared. They said that they have been wearing the hijab to class for years, but it has become an issue only now.

This is one of the many educational institutions in Karnataka which are now waging a war on the hijab — the religious headscarf worn by Muslim girls and women. Most of these institutions have had no problem with the hijab until recently, but the issue has now taken centre stage in Karnataka. Critics say the hijab is a right for students as the Constitution of India guarantees the right to freedom of religion. The hijab row rages even as the offering of namaz is being attacked in other spaces.

In the government college in Kundapur, which is a co-educational college, a group of students wore the saffron shawl to the college on Wednesday. This prompted the college authorities along with Kundapur’s BJP MLA Halady Srinivas Shetty, to hold a meeting with the parents. In the meeting, a parent was heard questioning the college about their decision to ban the hijab to deal with the saffron scarf issue.

"What are we asking? To wear the hijab — that is the Islamic rule. It is our culture, we have to do that. The government is taking time (to decide), why not let them wear it till then? Why are you opposing? Why is the college principal opposing? You told them not to come inside and stay outside the gate. You should not create a controversy with students, sir,” a parent was heard saying.

The same parent said that Muslim girls were attending the college on days when Hindu festivals were celebrated. “We have not opposed anything. On those days, we didn't say you are Muslim and don't go there because there is Onam or Holi that day. Nobody is absent. Everybody is coming,” the parent said.

MLA Halady Srinivas Shetty told TNM that it was decided to bar students from wearing both the saffron shawl and the hijab in the college. “Earlier, there were few students wearing the hijab but now a lot of students in a group were wearing the hijab. Yesterday, there was also a group of students wearing saffron shawls in this college. There is a government order asking for the status quo to be maintained till the expert committee discusses the issue. So, the principal has asked the students wearing hijab to go back,” the MLA said.

The Kundapur hijab ‘ban’ comes after a PU college in Udupi barred students wearing the headscarf from entering the classroom. These students haven’t been allowed to attend classes for over a month, and one of them has now moved the Karnataka HC, asking the court to direct the college to let the students enter their classrooms, thereby upholding their fundamental rights. The incident has made national and international headlines drawing news reporters and police cars to the college.

While there was no rules about the hijab in the college rulebook or in the state government’s guidelines for pre-university colleges, the state education department directed the college in Udupi to “maintain the status quo” — or, enforce the uniform that has been put in place by the institute and not allow students to wear the hijab. The students however refused to return to the classes without wearing the hijab, insisting that  it is a part of their faith.

The state education department, in its directions to the government college in Udupi, had admitted that there is no mandatory uniform for government college students. The order also stated that an expert committee will be set up to decide on the uniform and dress codes in colleges in the state.

With the situation in the government college in Udupi unresolved, similar controversies have cropped up in at least five other colleges in the state — in Chikkamagaluru, Mangaluru, Shivamogga, and now in two colleges in Kundapur — in just a month.

Protests by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) have been held in colleges in Chikkamagaluru, Mangaluru and recently in Shivamogga, with students wearing a saffron shawl to the college. But the students in Udupi’s government PU college say that the protests by the ABVP cannot be compared to their fight to wear the hijab. “If the saffron scarf is compulsory for the religion, let them wear it. In our culture, we have to wear the hijab,” one of the students in Udupi said.

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