'It's as if our dreams don't matter': Students barred for wearing hijab speak

The students have urged the college management to stop reducing their identity to the hijab and allow them back on campus.
Girls in hijab sitting outside college gates in Kundapura
Girls in hijab sitting outside college gates in Kundapura
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"I am studying in the biology stream and I have practical exams from the end of March and board exams in mid-April. Why is the college not supporting my education?"

These are the words of Nimrah, a 16-year-old 2nd PUC student of the private institute RN Shetty Composite PU College in Kundapur in Udupi district. This is the latest college where students wearing the hijab or headscarf were barred from entering the college premises in Karnataka.

Nimrah joined the college with hopes of becoming a doctor. "Biology was always my favorite subject and within Biology, I like reading about human anatomy. In my free time, I sometimes pick up science books to read," Nimrah says speaking to TNM on a day she would normally be in college.

Over the last year-and-a-half, Nimrah says she has been wearing the hijab or headscarf to her college everyday. "Suddenly, we were told to stop wearing the hijab or not come to college this week. This is the first time I was made to feel as though I was different from other students here, for wearing the hijab and being a Muslim," says Nimrah.

Around 40 Muslim girls studying in the college have now decided to protest the decision by the college management to exclude them from classes. This is a crucial year for girls like Nimrah with the 2nd PUC board examinations beginning in mid-April.

"We have examinations coming up and we have not gone through all of the portions yet. Will we get this time back for our education?" Nimrah asks. "It is as if our education and our dreams don't matter and our identity is reduced to the hijab. We are protesting on the road and we are being treated like we have done something criminally wrong just because we wore our headscarves to college," Nimrah says.

Throughout this week, authorities in several colleges in Kundapur and nearby areas like Byndoor and Gangolli, have asked students wearing hijab to stay out of the college campus. This includes the Government PU College, Bhandarkars' Arts and Science College, Dr. BB Hegde First Grade College and RN Shetty Composite PU College in Kundapura, Government PU College in Byndoor and Government PU College in Navunda.

Unlike Udupi, where students were previously not wearing the hijab, students from colleges in Kundapur say that it was earlier the norm to wear the hijab,

Al-rifa, a student of the private college Bhandarkar's College of Arts and Sciences, says that the scarf was even mentioned in their college rulebook. "We cited our own college calendar book to say that the headscarf is allowed in college, but the principal said that the college received instructions to not allow students wearing the hijab this week," Al-rifa told TNM.

In most of these colleges, the principal cited protests by other students wearing the saffron shawl as the reason for their decision to bar students wearing the hijab. The issue first cropped up in the Women's Government PU College in Udupi where students wearing the hijab have been kept away from classes for over one month. One of them has since moved the Karnataka High Court, asking the court to direct the college to let the students enter their classrooms. The court will be hearing the matter on Tuesday.

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