Hijab Row: Attack on Constitutional rights, say students

Students fear communalism may trump education in schools

Society

February 18, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Hijab Row: Attack on Constitutional rights, say students

Since December 2021, students in Karnataka have been protesting against the ban imposed by the authorities later backed by the state government (Photo: Twitter)

The ongoing controversy over ban of use of Hijab in schools in Karnataka has made headlines in India and overseas. It has also put the focus on a new fault line in the country’s education system and also raised vital questions on personal liberties in the country, especially of the minority communities.

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Thursday marked 5th day that the hearing of petitions against the ban in Hijab in schools in Karnataka was heard in the Karnataka High Court. The petition was filed after the state government suddenly imposed a ban on sporting of Hijab in schools, even though this practice has been on for decades across India.

The issue emerged in late January when some schools in Udupi district in Karnataka started banning the entry of girl children wearing hijabs, apparently without any reason. On February 5, the state government passed an order banning clothes which “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. It invoked a law that says a uniform has to be worn compulsorily. “The private school administration can choose a uniform of their choice,” the government order said.

Though the order did not specify Hijab or any other sign of any religion, it immediately led to a total ban on entry of girls wearing Hijabs to all schools. The situation turned worse earlier this week when the Karnataka High Court, while hearing a petition against the government order, put an interim ban on display of all religious symbols in schools. Since then, there have been dozens of videos on social media as well as on television, where not only the students sporting Hijabs but also teachers and other personnel of schools are being forced to remove their attire before stepping into the schools, sparking an outrage as many saw it as suppression of basic fundamental rights.

“I know how scary it feels to be a part of a religion and to be attacked due to it saying ‘you are a Muslim, you are a Hindu’. I experienced that and know the intensities. I am also a law student and more than a Muslim student or Muslim woman, I feel, as a law student that it is violating the rights of each and every citizen. In our preamble and in our fundamental rights, the right to secularism, the right to wear anything you want all are embodied but still due to this religion thing and RSS thing we are denied our  fundamental and Constitutional rights, I am more scared of that. Being an Indian Muslim citizen, you are denying the basic rights,” Abreedha Banu, Law Student in Jamia Millia Islamia, a prestigious university in New Delhi, tells Media India Group.

“Some people stare me for wearing hijab thinking ‘oh you are a Muslim’. This makes us very uncomfortable. None of my friends or I was ever told to not wear the hijab. I am from Kerala and I feel this issue of community is less in the state compared to other states led by Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” says Banu.

“I also feel that the ruling party of BJP is constantly trying to target a particular community. Since they were voted into power, they have been targeting Muslims and constantly trying to alienate this community. Now they are attacking Muslims particularly but am not sure that they will stop by this after fulfilling their wish of alienating us. They will definitely attack other marginalised communities as well. I strongly feel that this government is attacking the minorities to build their Hindutva state with a single community and uniform civil code,” feels Banu.

Some of the students also feel that the judiciary is not doing enough to protect the rights of the minorities. “In a democracy when we feel offended or cornered, we can approach the judiciary, but now we witness a trend that the judiciary is working for the ruling party. Amongst this uncertainty we see a glimmer of hope once in a while when the judiciary takes a good stand on the issues but still in many issues such as CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), the judiciary takes the stand in favour of the government even when it is evident that the government is constantly violating the rights of the people. We feel that if the judiciary is biased then who do, we approach for our grievances,” believes Banu.

Many students feel that the hijab ban is unconstitutional and is an attack on basic rights. Student unions based in Delhi such as All India Student Association (AISA), Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan last week organised a protest in front of Karnataka Bhavan, Delhi to voice their concerns and support their fellow peers in Karnataka to support the right to wear hijab. However, the students were detained on their way to the protest.

More than 50 students were arrested in front of Assam Bhavan and Odisha Bhavan by Delhi Police and taken to Mandir Marg Police Station, Gole Market, Delhi. “We were detained before we could reach our spots for protest in order to stop us from voicing our concerns. If a sane voice comes up claiming that women must be allowed to wear what they want to, it’s not a matter of hijab being essential in Islam and whatever the media is portraying, it’s co-hijab vs anti-hijab, its nothing of this stuff. Women should be allowed to wear what they want. If women want to wear hijab then let them wear it and if they want to wear it then don’t force them to not take it out. Its very sane and logical voice and if such scientific rational word comes out then BJP’s entire propaganda will be exposed,” Madhurima Kundu, a doctoral student of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Secretary of AISA, tells Media India Group.

“Religion apart from politics is being expanded into every sphere even into education, it’s used to create a divide between the Hindu students and the Muslim students. This creation of divide is being done in every sphere of life. This hijab row is not an apolitical incident. It’s entirely a political game and is being used to create a divide between the students,” feels Kundu.

How did the hijab row begin?

In December, a Pre-University College in Udupi, Karnataka issued a circular to the students prohibiting students from wearing hijab in the classroom claiming that it was to ensure uniformity in the class. Post issuing of the notice six female students were denied entry into the college premises. On December 31, 2021, the students protested claiming they were denied entry into the classes for the past 15 days.

BJP MLA Raghupathi Bhat of Udupi, head of the college’s development committee, held a meeting with parents and other stakeholders. After the meeting, he asked the students to follow the college’s dress code. The students chose to stay away from the classroom and later filed a writ petition with the Karnataka High Court and simultaneously approached the National Human Rights Commission.

Following this incident, a group of boys belonging to the Hindu community and students of Government Pre-University College in Kundapur went to college sporting saffron shawls in protest against some girls attending classes wearing hijab.

MLA of Kundapur Haladi Srinivas Shetty held a meeting with parents and asked the students to comply with the dress code prescribed by the college until the government takes a decision. The girl students, on the other hand, argued that they cannot be forced to stay out of the college following a ‘sudden change in the dress code’ barring hijab.

To counter the girls wearing hijab the boys were barred from wearing hijab, many boys turned up wearing saffron shawls, but they too were banned from entering the classrooms. Several such cases were later reported in several colleges in Udupi district, Karnataka.

The dispute took a new turn in the Chikkamagaluru when students of IDSG Government First Grade College arrived wearing blue shawls, chanting Jai Bhim slogans and raising their voices in support of Muslim girls.

Since then, the government had banned the wearing of hijab in educational institutions in the state. Following this, which the Karnataka High Court saw many more petitions against the order issued by the state government.

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