The image of young girls, across faiths, holding hands on the day the Udupi Government Pre-University College reopened on February 16.

Students in uniform holding hands with a hijab wearing studentPrajavani and Deccan Herald/ Irshad Mahammad
news Hijab row Wednesday, February 23, 2022 - 15:47

Even as the hijab row spread across Karnataka, fueled by divisive rhetoric from all over the country, one photo from the ground zero of the issue has become viral on the internet as a “symbol of unity.” On February 16, when the Udupi Government Pre-University College for Girls  reopened after a week-long state government implemented closure, a picture emerged of young girls, with one clad in a hijab, firmly holding hands and walking towards the college. The photo quickly went viral with many seeing it as a hopeful message in times of divisive, anti-minority politics. The moment was captured by photojournalist Irshad Mohammed and published in Prajavani, a Kannada language newspaper and its English sister publication Deccan Herald.

Speaking to TNM, Irshad says the photo represented a gleam of positivity for him amidst the bleak images and news coming in as colleges and schools, one after the other took up the hijab ban. “I wanted the outside world to see that there are students refusing to be divided, that there is another India that hasn’t fallen prey to politics. This is the India of my childhood,” Irshad says.

Photographer Irshad Mahammad

Irshad, who has been covering the issue since it began in December last year, says, “As a photojournalist, I felt I had to show this aspect to, something positive and good coming out of Udupi that many media houses are not showing because they’re only focusing on the divide. I wanted to bring in a ray of hope.” The photo was shared widely on social media with people praising the students for upholding pluralism, “a spirit of diversity” and a form of resistance against those with Hindutva agendas. Irshad who was elated to see the photo going viral, adds, “A lot of people have got back to me saying that they had been despairing watching how communalism was spreading in coastal Karnataka. For them, this picture affirmed their own feelings of fraternity across community lines, it gave them some hope.”

Irshad started working for Prajavani back in 2013 in and was then based out of Mysore.

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