In Udupi, scores of saffron-clad students raise slogans against classmates in hijabs

TNM was on the ground in Udupi as over a 100 young students wearing saffron shawls breached the walls of MGM College to confront a group of Muslim girls in hijabs.
Protest at Udupi College on Tuesday, Feb. 8
Protest at Udupi College on Tuesday, Feb. 8
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The ongoing hijab controversy in Karnataka sparked a tense scene on the morning of Tuesday, February 8 when over a 100 young male students wearing saffron scarves raised slogans against Muslim girls donning the hijab at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College (MGM) in Udupi. The students wearing the saffron scarves confronted the Muslim students who had just exited their classrooms at the college. The face-off resulted in a clash of slogans, with the young men shouting “Jai Shri Ram,” while the hijab-wearing students countered with, “We want justice.” A solitary Muslim student could also be heard saying, “Allahu Akbar.” The charged moment was finally quelled by college authorities who could be seen keeping the two factions away from each other. 

Since December, a standoff in colleges in Karnataka has continued over allowing students to wear hijabs and enter campus. Earlier on Tuesday morning at MGM college, a handful of saffron scarf-wearing young men were collected near the gate as the college disallowed them from entering. Many of these students identified themselves as being a part of the ABVP (student wing of the BJP) and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike.

Meanwhile, the Muslim girls who were wearing hijab were taken inside the college and asked to wait in a separate classroom. With no word from the college management, the girls grew impatient and walked to the college’s gate to look at the protest unfolding there. It was around 10.15 am and the small crowd had swelled by then. As the group of 50-odd Muslim girls approached the gate, the ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans started. More students, both men and women, wearing saffron shawls gathered at the gate, many breaching the college walls to raise slogans at the young Muslim girls on campus. 

“First they started to raise their voice against us. Then all the (Muslim) girls, we all started to raise our voices,” said Javeriya Fathima, a 20-year-old third-year BSC student at MGM. Javeriya and a few other students then said they tried to leave the college, but the gates had been closed. When they were finally opened, the boys physically forced them out. “They literally pushed us. Go out. Get out. Some said, get lost,” she said.  

“These boys don’t know what they’re doing. They’re totally blind. Some boys know they’re doing wrong but it’s all for fun,” she added. 

Until this week, the students who spoke to TNM said they had never faced an issue wearing their hijabs to the college. They noted that it was after the incident involving Muslim women students in Kundapur that the college principal announced on Monday that they would no longer be allowed to wear a hijab on campus. When they arrived in college today wearing their hijab, the college lecturers tried to enforce the principal’s order, the girls said. “This is a matter of dignity. Hijab is our first priority. Education is the second priority,” Javeriya said. 

One of the saffron-clad students, a Class 11 student and a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), said, “We spoke to the principal yesterday, they said they will announce a decision on the hijab by 10.30 today. We told the principal we would wear the shawls but they didn't say anything. The principal told us hijab wouldn't be allowed from today so we believed them and attended class. But today we saw that girls were wearing hijab inside the college and classrooms."

The student said that other students belonging to the ABVP had also been alerted of the protest, and were asked to show up at the college wearing saffron shawls. "I have sent a message to others also to wear saffron shawls and come here, but we can't say how many will come,” the student said.

The student added that the shawls were given by the Hindu Jagrana Vedike during a festival in Udupi.  

Even after the confrontation was calmed, a large crowd of young men and women wearing saffron scarves and turbans who are students at the college as well continued to shout slogans and wave their scarves in the air.  

Bhargavi, a second year BSc student who was wearing a saffron turban, said that uniform was mandatory for everyone. “The state and central government has said there is uniform, it should be followed,” she said. She also added that because of her Muslim classmates insisting on the hijab, the Hindu students were forced to wear the saffron shawls. “We are here to study, not bring religion into the class. Now because of all this, our classes are disrupted,” she claimed. 

However, even as Bhargavi and other students claimed that they were against bringing religion into the classroom, they continued to don saffron attire and shout, ‘Jai Shri Ram’, both of which are overtly Hindu symbols. 

Arnav Amin, an alumni of MGM College from 2014, said, "I had a few hijab wearing girls in my class and they used to wear it freely. This has been happening in the college for years and there were no restrictions until recently"

Several colleges, especially in Kundapur, have seen similar controversies over the last month. The number of such instances being reported have escalated. On Monday, February 7, a group of around 25-30 boys showed up to the Venkataramana Pre-University College wearing saffron shawls. They were seen staging a protest, shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as they made their way to the college. 

However, Ganesh Mogaveera, the principal, had told TNM that none of the students in the college had worn a hijab and added that those wearing the shawls said that they wore it after seeing photos of similar protests on social media. “It is a surprising development in Kundapur. I've lived here all my life and this is the first time I'm seeing this much turbulence. We want to remind students this is a crucial phase in their life. They are studying to be in good undergraduate courses,” he added.

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