The controversy over Muslim girl students wearing hijabs to educational institutions in Karnataka has gripped Puducherry as well. The parents of a Class-IX Muslim student of Ariyankuppam Government High School told The Quint that two months ago, their child was allegedly asked by the school principal not to wear a hijab to the school.
The incident sparked off a row in the Union Territory, with political parties and educationists demanding that the government school act in a 'secular' manner.
On 4 February, when schools reopened in Puducherry after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the girl's parents sent a letter addressed to the management demanding reasons for their action.
"My daughter has been studying in the same school for many years. She has reached puberty now. How can we send our daughter without the hijab? In fact, there are at least 10 other hijab-wearing Muslim girl students in the same school," said Iqbal, the student's father.
On Tuesday, 8 February, the school permitted the students to wear hijabs inside the classrooms.
Students Asked to Remove Hijab Only Inside Classroom: Principal
Iqbal, who is also an office-bearer of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), Puducherry, said, "Usually, kids remove the burqa after reaching school, but they will need to keep their headscarf on in the classroom. The headmaster had told our daughter to remove that. She was scared and so did it."
Gomathi, the school principal clarified to The Quint, "I didn't say anything wrong and was merely ensuring that the kids abide by the school rules and dress as per the uniform school code."
On Saturday, after reading the letter by the parents, the principal called them to the school for a meeting.
"When we approached her, she asked us to get a letter from the school education department, granting permission to my daughter to attend classes while wearing the hijab," Iqbal said.
The girl's father told The Quint that she was a high-achieving student and that the incident had "rattled her" so much that she didn't want to go to school.
'Why Is One Community Denied the Right to Follow Their Traditions?'
The girl's parents then reached out to educationists and political parties who gathered at the school gates on Monday, 7 February. CS Swaminathan, founder of Puducherry Union Territory Students Federation, led the group and 10 persons went in to have a sit-down chat with the headmistress.
The Quint learnt that there was heavy police deployment in the school and the Chief Educational Officer (CEO) K Meenakshisundaram was also present at the meeting.
The girl's father told The Quint that the CEO spoke on behalf of the school and apologised for its action.
Gomathi said that she had "no religious intentions."
"The government has clearly specified certain regulations that include wearing uniforms in school. The student had not worn a hijab until now. And the other kids who usually wear hijab remove them inside the classroom. Within the classroom, a girl need not feel any intimidation or fear, despite attaining puberty. She is safe within the class and she shouldn't be thinking of all this. The purpose of the uniform is to ensure that one can't see caste, creed or religion."Gomathi, Principal, Ariyankuppam Government High School
Refuting these allegations, Iqbal asked, "People from all religions have been living here as brothers and sisters. But why is one community being denied the right to follow its traditions? It is shocking that children are being made to look through the lens of religion at school."
"If they are talking about uniformity, then why are there pictures of Hindu gods placed all over the school office? I asked the principal, why she is wearing a bindhi, but the other kids aren’t? The CEO was wearing vibuthi which conforms to his religious beliefs. So if we are talking of uniformity, even this shouldn't be allowed."CS Swaminathan, Founder of Puducherry Union Territory Students Federation
Report Sought on Pondy Teacher's Objection to Hijab in Class
Director of School Education Department PT Rudra Goud, after deliberation with political leaders and activists on Monday, said he would issue a circular to all schools to allow Muslim students to wear hijab on campus.
The Puducherry government's Directorate of School Education has asked the head of the government school to inquire into the incident.
It is to be noted that the Union Territory is governed by the NR Congress and BJP coalition government and the education portfolio is handled by A Namassivayam, a BJP minister.
A delegation of Karaikal MLAs met Puducherry Chief Minister N Rangasamy on Tuesday, stressing that sovereignty and religious rights must be protected in the Union Territory.
M Nagathiyagarajan (Neravy-TR Pattinam), AMH Nazeem (Karaikal South), PR Siva (Thirunallar), and Ouppalam MLA Annibal Kennedy met the CM at his office on Tuesday.
"People are concerned the UT will become like neighbouring states. If the government does not react, we are afraid the UT will lose its sovereignty," said MLA Nagathiyagarajan.
The Quint tried to contact CEO K Meenakshisundaram and A Namassivayam, but they were not available for comments.