Muslim students in hijabs endure unwanted glare of media and cameras in Karnataka

In colleges, inside classrooms and sometimes even when they are enroute to their homes, students in hijabs have cameras thrust in front of them.
Students wearing hijabs in Karnataka
Students wearing hijabs in Karnataka
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As media focus increases on escalating confrontations between students wearing hijabs and those in saffron shawls, some young Muslim women want no part in the politics playing out in these colleges and are faced with unwanted attention. In colleges, inside classrooms and sometimes even when they are en route from their homes to colleges, students in hijabs have cameras thrust in front of them, some belonging to news organisations and a few others are mobile cameras of students who are opposed to hijab. 

A young woman in Hassan’s Government Home Science college, who was wearing a hijab in class, found herself subjected to the harsh gaze of tens of cameras. She was the only student in her class wearing a headscarf and when a few reporters wanted to take visuals of her classmates wearing saffron shawls in class, she stood out amongst them. She says that she had been wearing a headscarf from much before the ongoing controversy began and wants nothing to do with protests going on. But she still had to endure the unwanted attention directed at her attire. Extremely uncomfortable with this, she walked out, forced to abandon the rest of the classes.   

In another class in the same college, three young women too are facing a similar situation. “We are not in support of any political or student organisation nor are we being supported by anyone. We used to wear a headscarf along with our uniforms even before this but now people think they can take our videos,” says Subiya (name changed). 

Her friend and classmate says that her family too has gotten very uncomfortable and her father is now dropping her and her sisters to college to ward off anybody who takes their videos inside the college. “I know there are some people who are wearing hijab to make a political statement. We are not amongst them. But those who are shooting videos do not differentiate,” she says. 

Subiya and her classmates say that if this behavior continues, they might request college to allow them to attend online classes. 

On Tuesday, the confrontation escalated in their college after close to 50 women chose to wear hijab and they were accosted by students wearing saffron shawls. Some of the women wearing hijab on Tuesday say they did so in solidarity with students who are being segregated in separate classrooms in Udupi colleges. But this led to further aggravation of the situation in their college. The college authorities decided to send all students home to avoid the situation getting out of control. 

A video emerging from PES College in Mandya shows a young woman in burqa being heckled by over 20 men wearing saffron shawls and shouting ‘Jai Sri Ram’. As she is accosted, she is seen responding with ‘Allahu Akbar’, even as the students with saffron shawl continue to follow her, waving their shawls. 

In Chikamagalur’s IDSG Government College, a third group of students have joined the protest with blue shawls and ‘Jai Bhim’ slogans. On Monday, two groups, one with saffron shawls and ‘Jai Sri Ram’ chants and the other with blue shawls and ‘Jai Bhim’ slogans faced off. This continued on Tuesday too and the college authorities decided to clamp down on all activities related to the protests. Anybody wearing saffron or blue shawls were asked to remove them and then enter classes or return home. 

Caught in the middle of all this, six women wearing hijab too were asked to make the same choice: either strictly adhere to the uniform or go home. The women stood outside, trying to reason with the college authorities for a short while. They were outnumbered by the students donning saffron and the college authorities and the police personnel deployed at the entrance did not let them in.

“Everybody around us kept recording our videos. We did not want to get into further trouble so we just left after a while. We do not know what to do if the same thing repeats tomorrow. It is very unsettling to have so many cameras pointed at you. We are not used to this,” says Ayesha (name changed). Her friend agrees. “These videos are being shared widely, we do not want them to make it to social media where they could be misused by someone,” she adds. 

The students supporting wearing saffron, however, justify the violation of privacy. Shashi Aldur who is with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) says that many of the students who insist on wearing hijab to classes are seen posting pictures on their social media accounts without hijab when they are out. “This shows that their intention is just to create disturbance,” he claims, not addressing the important issue of consent.

Several pictures of Muslim students not wearing hijab elsewhere but wearing one inside class has been made into a collage and is being circulated on WhatsApp group. 

“This is the point we are making,” says Ayesha. “Just see how our privacy is being invaded. This is why we are so wary when our videos are taken outside colleges now,” she says.

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