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'Everyone Has Forgotten About Us': Hijabi Students Who Didn't Remove Headscarf

While many students have removed their hijab to be able to sit for their exams, several others refused to give in.

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As many celebrate and praise Tabassum Shaikh, the student who recently topped the Karnataka Pre-University (PU) exams and spoke about how she found it “very unfair” to have to give up the hijab in order to sit for her exams, several other hijabi students— who didn’t give up the headscarf —say people have turned a “blind eye” to their woes.

Since the Karnataka High Court’s verdict of March 2022, upholding the state government’s hijab ban, several hijabi students have been barred from entering their PU as well as degree colleges. While a significant chunk of students like Shaikh removed their hijab to be able to sit for their exams, there are still several others whose lives have been upended in the last year due to their unwillingness to give in to the government diktat.

Hijabi students, not just of government colleges, but also of private colleges—where the government order doesn’t technically apply—have had a tumultuous last year.

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Some other students have had to shift cities for the sake of their education, but even that didn’t solve their problems.

Changed Cities, Sought Admission In Private Colleges, Minority Institutes; Nothing Helped

Fathima Kulsum, 18, says she has lost one year of her life and her future remains uncertain, because of her decision not to give up the hijab.

“Firstly, many girls who gave up the hijab to study did so begrudgingly and forcefully. They are being celebrated. But then, there are so many of us who chose to stick to the hijab. What about us? The others are being celebrated but everyone has turned a blind eye to us, they have forgotten about us,” Fathima told The Quint.

While many students have removed their hijab to be able to sit for their exams, several others refused to give in.

A student of a government college in Koppal district, Fathima was to write her final PU exams (12th grade) in March 2022, just weeks after the hijab ban was implemented. “I wasn’t allowed to sit for the exams, I argued relentlessly but they asked me to simply leave the centre or remove the hijab,” she said.

Helpless, Fathima and her family moved to Bangalore a few months later, hoping that things would be better in a big city. She sought re-admission in several colleges, including private colleges, she says. "I was ready to repeat my second year of PU if that ensured that the college will allow me to write exams with hijab. But to my shock, even private colleges weren’t allowing me to study there with hijab,” she said.

The Karnataka government’s order against hijab in colleges is only applicable in government institutes, and not in private colleges.

Fathima said she also tried seeking admission in minority institutes, but that didn’t help either. “They were giving me the admission, but said they can’t guarantee that there will be no problems with me wearing the hijab during exams,” she said.

Fathima’s troubles didn’t end there. Many months later, when the supplementary exams were taking place in June—meant for those who failed to clear the exams earlier—she decided to give it another shot. “I thought at least now they will let me write the papers, but they kept arguing with me. Finally, they let me sit in the exam only wearing a cap, not the hijab...But I was in such a state of distress by the time I got to write the exams, that I couldn’t score well,” she said.

Finally, in March 2023, a full year after her original exams, Fathima was allowed to sit for a re-exam.

But the future still remains uncertain.

“After this comes entrance exams for degree colleges, then comes the actual time at degree colleges....all of it now requires us to give up hijab, don’t know what I will do now,” she said.

Students In Private Colleges Also Have To "Prepare For Worst Case Scenario"

Despite the High court clarifying its interim order in February 2022 that the hijab ban is only to be implemented in PU colleges and degree colleges which have a uniform, across Karnataka several degree colleges which don't have a uniform have also brought a de facto hijab ban in place. Moreover, even private colleges where College Development Committees (CDCs) which don't have any jurisdiction, are implementing a hijab ban.

While many students have removed their hijab to be able to sit for their exams, several others refused to give in.

Heena Kousar, who studies at a private degree college in Bangalore, said that she was asked to leave her centre during her exam in March 2023 because she was wearing the hijab. “I study at a private college where the hijab hasn’t been a problem in the last year. Even the centre where I was writing the exam was a private college...so what is the issue? I argued that they cannot arbitrarily bring a new rule,” Heena told The Quint.

After an hour of back and forth, Heena was allowed to go back to her exam hall, but by that time she had lost a lot of valuable time. “I got completely blank and was so nervous because of the argument that it became impossible to write the paper well. Now I am constantly worried that whenever I have to write any exams, something of this sort may happen,” she said. “I have to mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario.”

"Kept Hoping Judiciary Will Act Even As Peers Moved On

Shaheen Iram, a student in Karnataka’s Shimoga said that after losing one entire academic year, she decided to rejoin her college. “For a year I kept hoping things will become fine. But after losing one year, I realised all my peers have moved ahead with their studies, I am stuck,” Shaheen said. 
 
Finally, in December 2022, Shaheen sought re-admission in the same college but she had to repeat the year. “Now we take out the hijab in a waiting room just at the door of the college and then go in,” she explained. 

While many students have removed their hijab to be able to sit for their exams, several others refused to give in.

“It’s been tough to see all my peers move on with their education, but I suffered just because I decided to hold on to hope that our judiciary will intervene and allow us to study with the hijab on, but then ultimately I had to give in,” she said. Shaheen added that she is “trying to adjust” to not wearing the hijab while in the classroom but that it is “mentally grueling.”

Another student, Gowsiya, a Mangalore resident, said that it took her eight months to find a college that would allow her to wear the hijab. "For eight months I just sat at home, went from one college to another requesting admission. It was a torturous process," she said.

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