Class for education, not religion: Karnataka Home Minister on hijab row

In the most recent incident, a government college in Karnataka’s Kundapura closed its doors on students who wore hijabs, after a similar incident in the district.
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra
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As more colleges closed their doors to students wearing hijab, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra suggested that the classroom is not a place to display religion and that students should neither wear the hijab nor saffron shawls to college. He also asked the police to keep watch on religious organisations that are trying to “undermine the country's unity” in this regard.

Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, the minister said that no one should come to school in order to practice their religion, as it is a place where all students should learn together with a feeling of oneness. His remarks come even as two colleges in Karnataka’s Kundapura have barred students wearing hijabs and saffron scarves from entering the campus. The Government Pre-University College in Kundapura came into focus after a group of students wore saffron shawls to college on Wednesday, February 2. This prompted a meeting between Kundapura MLA Halady Srinivas Shetty and parents, who pointed out that students have been wearing hijabs to the college for years. However, the issue remains unresolved, and over 20 students and their parents have been pleading with college authorities to allow them to attend classes again.

“Earlier, there were few students wearing the hijab but now a lot of students in a group were wearing the hijab. Yesterday, there was also a group of students wearing saffron shawls in this college. There is a government order asking for the status quo to be maintained till the expert committee discusses the issue. So, the principal has asked the students wearing hijab to go back,” the MLA told TNM.

The Karnataka Home Minister said, “There are places like churches, mosques and temples for people to freely practice their religion and offer prayers, while at schools there should be an academic atmosphere for children to develop a culture of national unity and integrity.” He added that "schools are the place where children belonging to all religions should learn together and imbibe a feeling that we are not different, and all are children of Bharat Mata." However, he added that action must be taken against religious organisations that promote enmity between groups.

The row surrounding the hijab took centre stage in Karnataka after a college in Udupi barred students wearing the headscarf from entering the classroom. The eight students have not been allowed to attend classes for over a month, and one of them has moved the Karnataka High Court to direct the college to let them enter, and uphold their fundamental rights. While the issue in Udupi remains unresolved, similar incidents have cropped up in five other colleges in Karnataka in just a month, with two of them in Udupi’s Kundapura.

While there were no rules about the hijab in the college rulebook or in the state government’s guidelines for pre-university colleges, the state education department directed the college in Udupi to “maintain the status quo” — or, enforce the uniform that has been put in place by the institute and not allow students to wear the hijab. The students, however, have refused to return to the classes without wearing the hijab, insisting that it is a part of their faith.

The state education department has said that an expert committee will be set up to decide on the uniform and dress code for colleges in the state.

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