After working as a part-time English lecturer for three years at the Jain PU College in Tumakuru, Karnataka, Chandini decided to call it quits on Wednesday, 16 February, on account of her hijab.
She said in her resignation letter, "I condemn your (college's) undemocratic act."
It was just another Wednesday for Chandini on 16 February; she was scheduled to begin her classes at 1 pm, and arrived at the college at 12.30 pm. Before she could enter her class and prepare for her lecture, she was summoned to the principal's chamber.
A Loophole Found
"The principal told me that the management had a meeting on 15 February and that they have decided not to allow anyone with any item or clothing that is part of a religious symbol," she said.
According to Chandini, principal KT Manjunath stressed on adhering to the government orders and ensuring that the rule applied to all, irrespective of their religion.
The High Court of Karnataka, in its interim order, does not specifically state that teachers are exempted from adhering to the ban on religious clothing. A loophole that the college management appears to have found.
"But uniformity is not equality," insisted Chandini. "Equality is in individuality," she said. This 27-year-old lecturer has been teaching for the last five years.
"And I have been wearing the hijab all these years while teaching. This is the first time I have come across a situation where I am told that I can't make a personal decision on what I wear," she added.
'I Stand Against the System'
Chandini was born and brought up in Chittoor, around 245 km from Tumakuru. She has five siblings, including three older sisters, one older brother, and one younger brother.
"My father brought the daughters up as equals to the sons. And I respect him for that. I was raised in a home where my brothers have had the same rights as I," she said, while also mentioning that her father was a driver until he retired recently.
"My brother runs a textile business and has been supporting the family to a large extent," she said, adding that she too wanted to pursue her career in teaching, support the family, and not get married soon.
"I am not against the institution or the principal. I am standing against the system," said Chandini, who claimed that the entire hijab controversy was politically instigated, keeping in mind the Assembly elections in many states across north India.
"This is an issue that serves their political agenda," she said.
BJP Targetting Her Community, Feels Chandini
Does Chandini blame the BJP? What about the six students, who first staged a protest in Udupi demanding entry into the educational institution with the hijab?
"I decided to wear the hijab when I started studying in my pre-university college. Nobody had a problem then. Why would it be an issue now? We are not against the uniform. We respect it. We just want to wear this piece of cloth, which is part of our religious identity," said the teacher.
"I resigned almost immediately after my conversation with the principal. He said that once the judgment is out and if it is in my favour, they will have me back with the hijab. I was just distressed by this sudden turn of events. I put out my resignation letter on my social media page and had no idea that it would go viral like this," she said, highlighting the fact that she was ready to fight for her right.
As a teacher, Chandini said that she was pained to see students garnering hate in the protests against hijab that have swept most districts of Karnataka. "This is a serious issue. Educational institutions are places that promote love, but politicians are destroying the peace and tranquility here. And I'm not just blaming the BJP here," she said.
Many from the ruling party have claimed that students have been attending classes after removing the hijab.
However, Chandini begs to differ and feels that the BJP has been targeting her community. "From terror to CAA to now this hijab row, they use a common figure of rhetoric," she said.
While all eyes are on the High Court verdict, which is expected to put an end to this dispute, Chandini says that she is looking forward to an order that will promote diversity, individuality, and culture.
"Culture in India is about disallowing women from being controlled. We respect every religion. Let us wear our individuality," she said.
(Pratiba Raman is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru.)