TNM investigation: How Hindutva group mobilised saffron-clad students at Udupi college

At least two days before the saffron scarf and turban wearing students protested against their hijab-wearing classmates at MGM college, a message was circulated to students.
Students wearing saffron turbans protesting at MGM College in Udupi on February 8.
Students wearing saffron turbans protesting at MGM College in Udupi on February 8.
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The Hindu Jagarana Vedike in Udupi instigated students at MGM college to protest against their hijab-wearing classmates, and provided them with saffron shawls and turbans, an investigation by The News Minute has found. MGM college saw a standoff between over 100 saffron-clad students, and a group of Muslim girls in hijab, on Tuesday, February 8. This is not the same college where the hijab row in Karnataka first started; saffron-clad protesting students TNM spoke to said they decided to take up the issue after they saw what was happening at the Women’s Government PU College in Udupi; however, TNM’s investigation has revealed that the protests were not spontaneous, and the saffron shawls and turbans were organised by the Hindu Jagarana Vedike.

The unknown organisers’ message

TNM has accessed a message that was circulated to students at MGM college at least two days before the stand-off on Tuesday. "Already, the hijab row has become a big issue in all colleges in Udupi and to wear one small cloth around the face for one month, Muslim students are creating a stir and posting messages on social media,” the Kannada message that was sent to the students said. “We are aware that this hijab problem is there even in MGM college. Even in our college, we need to end this hijab issue within this academic year and it is essential that all of us fight to safeguard uniformity. So for this, all students must compulsorily on Monday bring saffron shawls and keep it in their bags until the organisers send instructions on wearing them on the shoulder and then enter the college,” it said, ending with an invocation of “Jai Shri Ram.”

Image: The message forwarded to students of MGM college, at least two days before the February 8 protests.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a person closely associated with the college tells TNM that they do not know who the originator of the message was, but suggested that it came from outside the college. "These messages were shared in all class groups, especially among PUC first year students,” the source said, “It is not clear from where these messages originated but we know that it is from people outside the college.”

TNM has pieced together, by analysing videos from the protests and by speaking to students at the college, that the Hindutva group Hindu Jagarana Vedike was central to mobilising the students wearing saffron shawls in the college on Tuesday morning.

BJP leader present in student protest, Hindu Jagarana Vedike men right outside college

The message asked students to carry saffron shawls on Monday. While there were no protests on Monday, saffron-clad students faced off with hijab wearing girls on Tuesday morning. BJP leader Yashpal Suvarna, meanwhile, was present at the face-off that took place in MGM College.He was standing amidst the students who were chanting slogans.

MGM College authorities stepped in to break the stand-off and disperse the students around 1 pm on Tuesday. At this time, many of the saffron-clad students were seen returning the saffron attire they wore during the protest to Hindu Jagrana Vedike members, who were waiting at Ajjamma Cafe, a popular student hangout spot located next to MGM college.

Hindu Jagrana Vedike’s divisional secretary Prakash Kukkehalli was also present at Ajjamma Cafe where the saffron shawls were collected by the members of the Hindutva outfit, as witnessed by this reporter. “Communal organisations are trying to disturb the harmony and mislead the students in Udupi over the hijab issue and we are opposing that,” Prakash told TNM at Ajjamma Cafe, when asked about the Hindu Jagrana Vedike’s role in the face-off between protesting students in MGM College.

When asked why the Hindu Jagrana Vedike members were near MGM college on Tuesday, Prashanth Nayak, the Udupi district president of the outfit, denied that the organisation had mobilised the students. "Till date everything that has happened, has all been done by students and we are not involved in it. As a responsible citizen of the society, we cannot sit with our eyes shut to this issue. Our dharma says what is right and wrong and how one should behave. We do not support cruelty and will never support it. But we can't always sit with our hands tied, it is our job to protect our society," Prashanth Nayak said. “See, there is nobody who doesn't have the money to buy a shawl. The students have themselves arranged the same and this is an example of what students can do,” he added.

However, the scarves and turbans the students were sporting were repurposed from Hindu Jagarana Vedike’s ‘Durga Daud’ event in October last year. One of the students who was wearing the scarf told TNM that it was his ‘personal scarf’ that was given to him by the Hindu Jagarana Vedike during the Durga Daud event last year, and he decided to use it on Tuesday. Other students, who did not have their own shawl, were provided with saffron shawls and turbans repurposed from the Durga Daud event, by the Hindu Jagrana Vedike members outside the college premises.

In fact, after the students were dispersed, Hindu Jagarana Vedike members collected these scarves and turbans back from the protesting students, and packed them away, as witnessed by this reporter. The collection of scarves and turbans was also documented by BOOM Live’s Nivedita Niranjankumar. 

Image: Hindu Jagrana Vedike’s divisional secretary Prakash Kukkehalli at Ajjamma Cafe where the saffron shawls were collected by the members of the Hindutva outfit.

Image: Saffron turbans being collected at Ajjamma Cafe outside MGM College by Hindu Jagarana Vedike members.

Image: Hindu Jagarana Vedike members carrying away a sack full of saffron turbans after the protest.

One of the saffron-shawled student protesters told TNM that they had all carried the shawls with them on Monday, too. “We spoke to the principal and asked him to stop the wearing of hijab in the classrooms. He gave us his word that it would be stopped by 10 am today, however, even today people are wearing hijab. That’s why we are protesting,” he said, and confirmed to TNM that he was a part of ABVP — the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad — which is the student wing of the Sangh Parivar.

Students and alumni from MGM whom TNM spoke to said that students at MGM had worn the hijab freely to the college till last week. Arnav Amin, a former student of the college, told TNM that hijab was allowed in this college when he was a student between 2011 and 2013. "There were hijab-wearing girls in my class and they used to wear it freely. There were no restrictions till now," the alumnus said.

Supporting rights versus mobilising students for politics

The BJP in Udupi as well as Hindutva groups like Hindu Jagran Vedike have repeatedly held that the hijab-wearing Muslim girls protesting in Udupi were mobilised by Campus Front of India, which is backed by the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). The CFI has said that they began supporting the individual rights of the girls at Women’s Government Pre-University College in Udupi after they were barred from attending classes over wearing the hijab.

Athavulla Punjalkatte, State President of the Campus Front of India, said, “Our organisation became involved after the girls were barred from classes in the government college in Udupi. There is a claim that this is an agitation by CFI but that is not true. We want to ask what was the BJP leader Yashpal Suvarna doing in MGM College at a student gathering? They are making this political.”

Apart from MGM college, at least three colleges in Kundapur in Udupi district barred Muslim girls wearing hijabs following saffron shawl protests. At the Government PU College in Kundapur, Muslim girls were segregated and kept in a different classroom on Monday. They were not given lessons on the day.

The Karnataka government, in reaction to widespread protests over the issue of wearing hijab in colleges, declared a holiday for three days in all high schools and colleges in the state. The High Court has now deferred the batch of petitions filed by Muslim students against the hijab ban at colleges in Karnataka to a larger bench. The bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S Dixit, and Justice JM Khazi, will hear the petition on Thursday at 2.30 pm.

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