On 3 March, 18-year-old Hiba Sheik went to her Government First Grade College in Mangaluru to write an exam on a subject that she likes – 'gender equality.' Ironically, she was disallowed from appearing for the exam when a group of Hindu male students allegedly told her to leave the college campus as she was wearing a hijab.
Sheik told The Quint, "Some students who opposed me were from the ABVP. They had no business to order me to leave the campus." She added, "I will continue to fight for my right to wear the hijab." Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is a student outfit affiliated to the ruling BJP.
Even as Mangaluru ABVP has not responded to the allegation, a city-based student leader confirmed that the students who opposed Hiba and other Muslim students were affiliated to the outfit.
In their altercation with Sheik and other Muslim students in hijab, the Hindu students cited an interim order issued by the Karnataka High Court on 10 February. As per the order, government Pre-University and Under Graduate colleges governed by College Development Committees (CDC) should bar their students from wearing religious clothing, including hijab.
"Only the college authorities have the right to impose the order. Why should I succumb to policing by fellow students?" Sheik asked.
FIRs Registered, College Goes Online Way
While the Karnataka High Court has reserved its verdict on the hijab case, Muslim women students, including Hiba Sheik, have been missing classes and examinations. The court had heard a batch of petitions from Muslim women students who were seeking permission to wear hijab to their colleges.
"I come from a family of educated people. We value education. At the same time, we also value the hijab," Sheik said. When The Quint reached out to one student, who had allegedly prevented Sheik from writing the examination, she reserved her comment.
In Mangaluru, however, the hijab row did take an ugly turn with two opposing groups filing complaints against each other at a local police station in Bander. In a complaint, Kavana Shetty, a Hindu student of the government college, accused Sheik of threatening her and other Hindu students. Sheik had earlier filed a complaint with Mangaluru police against Hindu male students for allegedly harassing her.
Based on complaints filed by Sheik and Shetty, the police have registered two First Information Reports.
In the first FIR, registered on 5 March based on the complaint of Sheik, 10 Hindu male students were booked for causing tension on campus. On Monday, 7 March, Sheik and five others, including Muslim male and female students, were booked on the same charges. The college, which closed on 4 March, started holding only online classes since Monday.
Sheik's mother Asha Ayub works as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker. "My mother wears her hijab when she goes out for COVID relief and other healthcare work. Why should I be prevented from wearing my hijab to classes? My family is supporting me in this fight," Sheik said. Her father Ayub Sheik had also approached the Mangaluru police to get help for his daughter.
Meanwhile, Kavana Shetty's complaint has quoted an exchange Sheik allegedly had with Hindu students. "Have you talked to a professor and stopped us from writing the test? Is the college your father's? We are also paying fees and coming," the complaint read.
Sheik raised a counter allegation, "Kavana was nowhere near the place where the altercation took place. I was being harassed by one male student, Sandesh. Other male students were mocking me."
'Court Order Being Imposed by Hindu Male Students'
Sheik said that her classmates have been noncommittal in the controversy. "They have neither supported nor opposed me," the student, who is in her second year BSc Zoology, said.
In Karnataka, the hijab row broke out when six students of Government Pre-University College for Girls, Udupi approached the Karnataka High Court, in December 2021, with a petition to allow them to wear hijab to college.
While the court was considering their petition, protests against hijab broke out in several colleges in the state, with Hindu students sporting saffron shawls.
The court on 10 February issued a blanket ban on all religious clothing in colleges where CDCs have prescribed uniforms.
However, in Karnataka, several private colleges have been imposing the ban on Muslim students. In some districts, including Shivamogga, even school students were prevented from wearing hijabs.
Sheik said, she has put her dreams on hold as she has been missing classes for long. "I want to be an IPS officer. I have been preparing for UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) examination," she said. According to her college authorities, regular classes will resume only after opposing camps of students come to an amicable settlement. "We do not want to risk the safety of our students and the reputation of our college," said Rajashekhar Hebbar, the college principal.