Lakshadweep parents have raised concerns about a tender notice that the Union Territory's education department issued on 8 April. As per the notice, the school uniform pattern of girl students will undergo a change – short-sleeves instead of long ones and divided-skirts instead of salwar-kameez.
The notice was issued by Rakesh Singhal, director of education, Lakshadweep.
A delegation of legislators met with the director of education on Monday, 11 April, to register their opposition to the change in the uniform. The delegation stated that the imminent change "may not abide by the culture of the island's people."
The Uniform Dress Code
The tender notice indicates that the uniform for girl students up to Class five will be half-sleeve shirts and skirts, and for girls from Class six to Class 12, the uniform will be divided-skirts and half-sleeve shirts. Currently, junior school girls wear long-sleeve shirts and skirts and the senior school girls wear salwar-kameez.
Headscarves or hijabs, find no mention in the tender notice. However, a senior legislator told The Quint that the education department has assured that "the hijab ban will not be extended to schools in Lakshadweep keeping in mind the Muslim population here."
"The education department has clarified that the skirts will extend below the knees."Asker Ali, Collector of Lakshadweep to The Quint
The notice also indicates that the uniforms will be stitched by the agency that wins the bid. Up until the current academic year, students used to be provided with cloth and stitching cost to get the uniforms stitched by self help groups. The Quint reached out to the director of education for a comment, but didn't receive a response. The article will be updated when he responds.
'Undemocratic,' Say Parents and Teachers
Teachers, parents, panchayat leaders, and legislators have slammed the "undemocratic and authoritative" move.
Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF) has asked the Centre to reconsider the new decision, stating that the move amounts to an attack on the islanders' culture. The move could destroy the islanders' independence, SKSSF said.
"The culture in the islands is such that girls cover their legs. How can they suddenly impose a rule that is contrary to our belief system?"Sathar Panthaloor, Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation
The collector assured that no action that "goes against the spiritual nature of the islands" will be taken "because everyone here lives together like a family."
Locals: 'Move Could Impact the Education of Girl Students'
Muslims and indigenous people form 93 percent of Lakshadweep's population. The indigenous population is classified under Scheduled Tribes, or the ST category.
It is to be noted that, according to the 2011 census, the Union Territory's literacy rate is over 92 percent, as against the national average of 74 percent. Also, Lakshadweep has a healthy sex ratio of 1,187 females for 1,000 males, according to the 2019-20 National Health and Family Survey (NFHS-5).
"We will not allow this rule to be implemented. And if they still manage to force this on us, then our kids – boys and girls – won't go to school," said Naziya* (name changed), a mother of two young girls.
Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal argued that the move did not have the approval of all the stakeholders.
"I spoke to the secretary and the director of the education department and they said that this was just for the sake of the tender notice. The finalisation of the uniform should be done after considering the opinions of parents, teachers and panchayat members. Such a discussion has not happened and this seems to be a move to favour one single party. Also, it is not democratic that we got to know about such an important move through a tender notice," he said.
Faseela Ibrahim, an advocate who has been at the forefront of the protests against the new administration said:
"It is unnecessary to interfere with the uniform code because there are so many other reforms that can actually be introduced to help improve the system. This can only have negative consequences."
Yet another Battle for the Locals?
On 30 March, Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal staged a walkout from an event at Kavaratti after lambasting what he regarded as the "brutal governance" of the administration. In his speech, he said that unilateral decisions, taken without consultation with people and their representatives, will not be accepted.
"Political rights and civil liberties in Lakshadweep declined to its lowest point since the advent of the dictatorial policies of Lakshadweep's new administration. We are not ready to cooperate in any way, with any ruler or administrator who does not take into account democratic principles and beliefs of the people," Faizal had said.
Faizal said that he is expecting the education department to issue a correction over the uniform, at the earliest.