Karnataka Hijab Row: Muslim Students Decry HC Verdict, Scores to Miss Exams

According to Muslim outfits, close to 5,000 students have missed classes and examinations in Karnataka so far.

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The Karnataka High Court order, that has effectively upheld the government imposed ban on hijab in educational institutions in the state, could force scores of Muslim students to miss classes. A majority of Muslim students The Quint approached after the court pronounced its judgment said that they will have to give education a miss.

"I will have to take TC (Transfer Certificate) and leave the college if I am not allowed to wear hijab," Afra Ajmal Assadi of Dr G Shankar Government First Grade College for Women, Udupi told The Quint.

Earlier, a Muslim students' outfit – Karnataka's Campus Front of India – had estimated that a total of 4,291 students have missed classes and examinations from across 79 educational institutions in Karnataka.

The outfit released the estimate based on a survey they conducted after the High Court passed an interim order that upheld the state government's decision to ban hijab in Pre-University (PU) and Under Graduate Colleges where College Development Committees (CDC) have prescribed uniforms. Another Muslim outfit, Udupi Muslim Okkutta had said that at least 230 Muslim women students have missed internal examinations in Udupi district alone.

The Karnataka government, however, released a conservative estimate of just around 400 students who may have missed classes from across the state.

In Udupi, educational institutions remained closed on Tuesday, 15 March, as the district administration had declared a holiday. The district, where six Muslim students first started a protest demanding their college administration to allow them to wear hijab, remained tense with police personnel deployed outside educational institutions and places of worship.


PU, Undergraduate Exams to be Hit?

As both PU and Under Graduate Examinations are expected to begin in April, students said they would want the appellate court, Supreme Court, to intervene and stay the High Court order.

"I have missed all the internal examinations in the college. Either the Supreme Court should stay the High Court order or the theory examinations should be postponed," said Hiba Sheik, a student of Mahatma Gandhi College, Udupi. The year-end and end-semester examinations are expected to begin in the first week of April.

"We will need a favourable order within the next one week to go back to college. If this does not happen, I will have dropout," Sheik said in clear terms.

Meanwhile, Karnataka's Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh said that the government will implement the High Court order without fail. He added, "Loopholes in the Karnataka Education Act will be fixed. Uniform ensures standards. Uniform will be standardised." The state government may not postpone examinations, a senior official in the primary and secondary education department told The Quint.

"The High Court has given a clear order. I request students to follow the order. I request everyone to maintain peace and order," Chief Minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai said on Tuesday.


'Attending Examination Without Hijab Not an Option'

While the High Court maintained that wearing hijab is not an essential religious practice in Islam, Muslim women students said that attending examinations without hijabs is "not an option" for them.

"I have missed my practical examination. Now I will have to miss the final examination. Attending classes or examinations without my hijab was never an option for me," Aifa Arza, a PU student of MGM College, Udupi said. Hiba Sheik said that the HC has not served "justice." The court has not considered the plight of Muslims students who cannot study without hijab.

"Now we are being asked to choose between examination and hijab. We can't make this choice," Aifa Arza said.

The High Court order will force some colleges, which were permitting women students in hijabs to enter campuses, to discontinue the practice. "At first, some of the colleges were lenient as they were waiting for the final judgment. Now, even these colleges may ask Muslim students not to wear hijab. This will affect more number of students," said Ayesha Ayath, another student from Udupi.

The High Court order may also allow the state government to impose hijab ban on educational institutions that are not governed by development committees. Meaning, even private educational institutions may not be exempt from the hijab ban. "In the fag end of the academic year, when exams are expected to start, where will we get admission. Which college will allow us to attend classes in hijab?" asked Afra Ajmal Assadi.


'We Need Hijab, Will Fight': Petitioners

Meanwhile, four women students of Government PU College for Girls, Udupi, who had approached the Karnataka High Court with a petition to allow them to wear hijab in their college, said that they will take "further legal recourse."

In December 2021, six students of the college asked the college management to allow them to wear hijab to classes. While the college refused, the students approached the state's High Court. Meanwhile, several Hindu students staged protests demanding a ban on hijab.

"Hijab is important in our religion. We had a lot of trust in the High Court. But we were let down," said Aliya Assadi, one of the women students. The students said that they will not discard their hijabs to write the examination. "Why are they not allowing us to study? They are making us illiterate," Hazra Shifa said.

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