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In Secular India, Muslim Girls Fight To Wear Hijab: Karnataka Row Explained

In December 2021, 6 Muslim students from Udupi's Government PU College for Girls were stopped from entering class.

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India
6 min read
In Secular India, Muslim Girls Fight To Wear Hijab: Karnataka Row Explained
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Grounds of Karnataka's schools and colleges have become the site of religious severances over the last few weeks, after a few Muslim girls in the state's Udupi district resisted an absolutist school 'policy' that barred them from entering a classroom wearing a hijab.

Their act of defiance against this prima facie communal policy has rendered students in the coastal state divided on young Muslim women's right to wear their religious dress – and by extension, their right to freedom and dignity.

Consequently, startling visuals of hoards of saffron-scarved students heckling Muslim girls clad in their religious attire at and near university campuses have emerged.

"It is not hijabs that provoked the ongoing educational disruptions. It is Hindu-supremacist outfits which disrupted harmony by demonstrating with saffron stoles to demand a ban on hijabs," reads a statement put out by several feminist and civil rights organisations from across the country on Thursday, 10 February.

But what is exactly happening in the state? How did it start? And where does this situation stand legally?

In Secular India, Muslim Girls Fight To Wear Hijab: Karnataka Row Explained

  1. 1. How It Started

    In December 2021, six Muslim students belonging to Udupi's Government Pre-University College for Girls were barred from attending classes, because they were clad in hijab.

    The institute justified the refusal by saying that "no religious activity will be allowed on campus", and exhorted the students to follow the college's dictated 'dress code', which they claimed was agreed upon by their parents.

    "We went back and checked. There's no such official rule in the university nor did our parents agree to any such arbitrary policy," student activist AH Almas had told The Quint later on, as reported on 25 January.

    The girls were marked absent for at least three weeks before they protested the ban on 31 December, saying "though it is our constitutional right, they are still not allowing us to go in the class because we are wearing hijab".

    What Did the College Administration Say?

    The College Development Committee Vice President Yashpal Suvarna spoke to Deccan Herald and undermined the cause, saying that out of 150 Muslim students, only six had "made an issue" out of the rule.

    The students filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, and also approached the National Human Rights Commission.

    Expand
  2. 2. 'Hijab' Row: Protests and Polarisation

    The six girls in Udupi, who were fighting for their right to adhere to their religious customs, catapulted reactionary protests in other regions of Karnataka, as Hindu students donned saffron scarves as a symbol of their opposition to the hijab.

    On 4 January, around 50 students of a state-run degree college in Karnataka’s Chikmagalur District wore saffron-coloured scarves and raised slogans outside their educational institution.

    A second year Bcom student had spoken to news agency PTI and claimed,

    "Three years ago, a similar controversy had erupted in the college and it was decided that no one should come to the college wearing a hijab, but over the past few days, some women have been coming to the college wearing it. Hence, we decided to wear saffron scarves."

    Consequently, both scarves and hijabs were banned from the classrooms in the institute.

    As resistance by Muslim students against the oppressive ban on their religious attire spread in different corners of the state, the saffron-shawl protests, too resumed with fierce intensity.

    On 6 January, a group of ABVP members from Pompei College in Mangaluru donned the scarves inside the college premises.

    In the midst of this, Campus Front of India (Karnataka) state secretary Syed Sarfaraz Gangavathi was quoted by The Indian Express as saying,

    "The Constitution allows the wearing of hijab or saffron shawls, but it should not be instigated by anyone or politically motivated."
    Syed Sarfaraz Gangavathi

    In Hassan and Kundapura too, students of a government and private college, respectively, wore saffron scarves to protest the hijab.

    Polarisation Intensifies

    The communal issue galvanised further resistance in Karnataka's educational districts. In February, close to 30 Dalit students of IDSG Government First Grade College in Chikkamagaluru arrived donning blue shawls and expressed solidarity with the Muslim students.

    At the same time, a group, just as big, wearing saffron shawls also showed up in front of the college.

    Slogans of 'Jai Bhim' by those donning blue shawls were countered with chants of 'Jai Shri Ram' raised by saffron-clad students.

    Within the next two days, frenzied protests broke out in the state, as reports of stone-pelting emerged from Shivamoga and a saffron flag was hoisted in college premises, leading to the imposition of section 144.

    In Davangere, students and protestors were lathicharged, and sprayed with tear gas. Amidst a deteriorating law and order situation, the government imposed section 144 in the area.

    Students detentions and violence was also reported from Hassan, Mandaya, Chitradurga, Hubbali, Raichur, and Bagalkote districts as well.

    On 8 February, visuals of hooliganism emerged online, capturing a mob of 'protestors' sloganeering 'Jai Shri Ram' and forcefully entering the room in the presence of a teacher, while a class is underway.

    Amidst the mayhem, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai ordered the closure of all high schools and colleges for the next three days in the state, citing the ongoing tensions in the coastal region.

    Expand
  3. 3. Government's Stance

    In the backdrop of the state witnessing its students divided over religion, Karnataka's Education Department refused relief to Muslim students, directing all government and private colleges in the state to follow the "uniform dress code".

    Invoking section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act-1983, the government iterated in its order:

    "Colleges that are under the Dept of Pre-University, state government to follow the dress which was decided by the college's development board (CDC). If there is no such dress code, students can wear the dress which will not affect equality, integrity, and law and order."
    Karnataka Government's order

    A previous analysis by The Quint, has confuted this stance, noting that the government has misquoted a state law on educational institutions to wrongly claim it mandates uniforms.

    The report asserted further that "it [also] creates a vague prohibition against clothes which "disturb equality, integrity and public law and order" – a prohibition which is meant to tick a bunch of legal boxes to allow hijab bans, but actually makes no legal sense".

    Expand
  4. 4. Where the Situation Stands Legally

    The local act of resistance near the coasts of India reached the courts after one of the hijab-wearing students, who was denied entry to her classroom in Udupi, filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court in this regard on 31 January.

    Filed by Rehman Farooq, the petition submitted that wearing a hijab is part of the girls' essential religious practices, and refusal to allow them to enter the college is, therefore, a violation of their fundamental right to practise their religion under Article 25 of the Constitution, as well as Article 14 (right to equal treatment).

    It argued further that it is the state's responsibility to protect these rights, and the actions of the college administration are unconstitutional, arbitrary, and exclusionary in nature.

    The latest development in the sub judice matter came on Thursday, 11 February, when a Karnataka HC bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, and Justices Krishna Dixit and JM Khazi refused to pass an interim order allowing the girls to attend classes wearing their headscarves until a final adjudication.

    "Pending consideration of all these petitions, we restrain all the students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls (Bhagwa), scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom, until further orders."

    Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who appeared on behalf of the girls, has argued on why an interim order protecting the girls' freedom of conscience was required till a verdict was passed.

    "This is not just a case of essential religious practice, it is a case of essential education for the girl child," he added.

    Following the court's stand, which provoked censure from members of civil society, Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat, representing another petitioner, mentioned a fresh special leave petition filed before the Supreme Court, against the HC's refusal to pass the order.

    On Friday, an apex court bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said that the apex court would list the issue over hijab in Karnataka colleges at "the appropriate time".

    "Karnataka High Court says that none of the students should raise religious identity while going to school and colleges. It has far-reaching consequences for other faiths and not only Muslims," stressed Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat in the Supreme Court.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

How It Started

In December 2021, six Muslim students belonging to Udupi's Government Pre-University College for Girls were barred from attending classes, because they were clad in hijab.

The institute justified the refusal by saying that "no religious activity will be allowed on campus", and exhorted the students to follow the college's dictated 'dress code', which they claimed was agreed upon by their parents.

"We went back and checked. There's no such official rule in the university nor did our parents agree to any such arbitrary policy," student activist AH Almas had told The Quint later on, as reported on 25 January.

The girls were marked absent for at least three weeks before they protested the ban on 31 December, saying "though it is our constitutional right, they are still not allowing us to go in the class because we are wearing hijab".

What Did the College Administration Say?

The College Development Committee Vice President Yashpal Suvarna spoke to Deccan Herald and undermined the cause, saying that out of 150 Muslim students, only six had "made an issue" out of the rule.

The students filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court, and also approached the National Human Rights Commission.

ADVERTISEMENT

'Hijab' Row: Protests and Polarisation

The six girls in Udupi, who were fighting for their right to adhere to their religious customs, catapulted reactionary protests in other regions of Karnataka, as Hindu students donned saffron scarves as a symbol of their opposition to the hijab.

On 4 January, around 50 students of a state-run degree college in Karnataka’s Chikmagalur District wore saffron-coloured scarves and raised slogans outside their educational institution.

A second year Bcom student had spoken to news agency PTI and claimed,

"Three years ago, a similar controversy had erupted in the college and it was decided that no one should come to the college wearing a hijab, but over the past few days, some women have been coming to the college wearing it. Hence, we decided to wear saffron scarves."

Consequently, both scarves and hijabs were banned from the classrooms in the institute.

As resistance by Muslim students against the oppressive ban on their religious attire spread in different corners of the state, the saffron-shawl protests, too resumed with fierce intensity.

On 6 January, a group of ABVP members from Pompei College in Mangaluru donned the scarves inside the college premises.

In the midst of this, Campus Front of India (Karnataka) state secretary Syed Sarfaraz Gangavathi was quoted by The Indian Express as saying,

"The Constitution allows the wearing of hijab or saffron shawls, but it should not be instigated by anyone or politically motivated."
Syed Sarfaraz Gangavathi

In Hassan and Kundapura too, students of a government and private college, respectively, wore saffron scarves to protest the hijab.

Polarisation Intensifies

The communal issue galvanised further resistance in Karnataka's educational districts. In February, close to 30 Dalit students of IDSG Government First Grade College in Chikkamagaluru arrived donning blue shawls and expressed solidarity with the Muslim students.

At the same time, a group, just as big, wearing saffron shawls also showed up in front of the college.

Slogans of 'Jai Bhim' by those donning blue shawls were countered with chants of 'Jai Shri Ram' raised by saffron-clad students.

Within the next two days, frenzied protests broke out in the state, as reports of stone-pelting emerged from Shivamoga and a saffron flag was hoisted in college premises, leading to the imposition of section 144.

In Davangere, students and protestors were lathicharged, and sprayed with tear gas. Amidst a deteriorating law and order situation, the government imposed section 144 in the area.

Students detentions and violence was also reported from Hassan, Mandaya, Chitradurga, Hubbali, Raichur, and Bagalkote districts as well.

On 8 February, visuals of hooliganism emerged online, capturing a mob of 'protestors' sloganeering 'Jai Shri Ram' and forcefully entering the room in the presence of a teacher, while a class is underway.

Amidst the mayhem, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai ordered the closure of all high schools and colleges for the next three days in the state, citing the ongoing tensions in the coastal region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Government's Stance

In the backdrop of the state witnessing its students divided over religion, Karnataka's Education Department refused relief to Muslim students, directing all government and private colleges in the state to follow the "uniform dress code".

Invoking section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act-1983, the government iterated in its order:

"Colleges that are under the Dept of Pre-University, state government to follow the dress which was decided by the college's development board (CDC). If there is no such dress code, students can wear the dress which will not affect equality, integrity, and law and order."
Karnataka Government's order

A previous analysis by The Quint, has confuted this stance, noting that the government has misquoted a state law on educational institutions to wrongly claim it mandates uniforms.

The report asserted further that "it [also] creates a vague prohibition against clothes which "disturb equality, integrity and public law and order" – a prohibition which is meant to tick a bunch of legal boxes to allow hijab bans, but actually makes no legal sense".

ADVERTISEMENT

Where the Situation Stands Legally

The local act of resistance near the coasts of India reached the courts after one of the hijab-wearing students, who was denied entry to her classroom in Udupi, filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court in this regard on 31 January.

Filed by Rehman Farooq, the petition submitted that wearing a hijab is part of the girls' essential religious practices, and refusal to allow them to enter the college is, therefore, a violation of their fundamental right to practise their religion under Article 25 of the Constitution, as well as Article 14 (right to equal treatment).

It argued further that it is the state's responsibility to protect these rights, and the actions of the college administration are unconstitutional, arbitrary, and exclusionary in nature.

The latest development in the sub judice matter came on Thursday, 11 February, when a Karnataka HC bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, and Justices Krishna Dixit and JM Khazi refused to pass an interim order allowing the girls to attend classes wearing their headscarves until a final adjudication.

"Pending consideration of all these petitions, we restrain all the students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls (Bhagwa), scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom, until further orders."

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who appeared on behalf of the girls, has argued on why an interim order protecting the girls' freedom of conscience was required till a verdict was passed.

"This is not just a case of essential religious practice, it is a case of essential education for the girl child," he added.

Following the court's stand, which provoked censure from members of civil society, Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat, representing another petitioner, mentioned a fresh special leave petition filed before the Supreme Court, against the HC's refusal to pass the order.

On Friday, an apex court bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana said that the apex court would list the issue over hijab in Karnataka colleges at "the appropriate time".

"Karnataka High Court says that none of the students should raise religious identity while going to school and colleges. It has far-reaching consequences for other faiths and not only Muslims," stressed Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat in the Supreme Court.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from news and india

Topics:  KARNATAKA   Hijab   Karnataka hijab row 

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