Karnataka: An ABVP Leader’s Plight Shows How Anti-Hijab Protests Are Staged

A new spurt of anti-hijab protests broke out in University College Mangaluru in May.

Karnataka: An ABVP Leader’s Plight Shows How Anti-Hijab Protests Are Staged
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V Vinyas is not a hero. But the 20-year-old student of Karnataka’s University College Mangaluru is most definitely an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) leader who wanted a “peaceful resolution” of the anti-hijab protests that gripped the campus on 26 May.

Vinyas had to resign from his position as president of the ABVP dominated students’ union because, with regard to Muslim women’s right to wear hijab, he considered the “perspectives of all students” instead of just a section.

“To take a decision you have to properly analyse the situation. After this incident it became clear to me that politics is very dirty. We can’t be good in politics. We can’t think about everyone. We have to think about one perspective alone,” Vinyas told The Quint.

V Vinyas student leader of University College Mangaluru.

(Image: Accessed by The Quint)


How Anti-Hijab Protests Were Staged Despite Opposition

A close look at Vinyas’ resignation reveals why he is now lamenting over ‘dirty’ politics. In essence, it appears that a soft stand or dissent on hijab is almost impossible within the ABVP – a student outfit affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is the parent organisation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Here’s why.

Vinyas took The Quint through the events that led to the recent ban on hijab in University College Mangaluru, and his resignation from the students union.

University College Mangaluru.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

To begin with, the University College was one among the few educational institutions in Karnataka which was allowing Muslim women students attend classes in hijab despite a High Court order which banned hijab in educational institutions that have prescribed uniforms.

The students union headed by Vinyas petitioned the college authorities demanding that hijab be banned in classrooms. “I wanted to follow the High Court order. I am still in support of the High Court order,” Vinyas stressed.

However, the student was aware of the troubles faced by Muslim women students.

"I heard that there were students who were having attendance shortage because they did not want to remove hijab. There were students who told their problems to my friends and others. That way I got to know about both sides of the story."
V Vinyas, ABVP Student Leader

Protest by Hindus students at University College Mangaluru.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

He also weighed the fact that as per the college’s prospectus, students were allowed to wear headscarves of the same colour as that of the uniform.

In short, his “broad perspective” led to a rift with other ABVP leaders in the students union. On 24 May the union wanted to start a saffron shawl protest against hijab-wearing students. Vinyas opposed the protest because he felt that a “big fight will break out.”


The Art of Killing Dissent

“I told them (students union) to resolve this peacefully. We’ll take time (I said).” Other ABVP leaders in the union, however, wanted Vinyas to take “strict action” and accused him of being “hesitant.” The ABVP was not happy, clearly.

“They (ABVP) were angry because I did not protest or do ‘strict’ things. (According to them) I should have pressurised the principal a little more because it was about a High Court order.”
V Vinyas, ABVP Student Leader

Despite Vinyas’ stand against the protest, a section of students went ahead. Scores of Hindu students sat outside the college gate to protest hijab. According to Vinyas while the second and third year under graduate students protested in their uniforms, some first year students wore saffron shawls. “They removed those later,” he said.

As pressure mounted on Vinyas, he tried to stay away from union leaders who were kind to him. “If something went wrong and if I resigned they would be thrown out. They were perfect for ABVP,” he said, indicating that dissent, anyway, could have led to his removal from the union.

With anti-hijab protests raging, on 27 May, the college asked the Muslim students not wear their headscarves on campus. Their appeals were not heard. Meanwhile, Vinyas faced severe backlash with a campaign that vilified him.

He was forced to clarify on Instagram:

“As a simple person I don’t like violence…I personally didn’t think that you would do these far attacks into my personal life…which has saddened me immensely.”
V Vinyas, ABVP Student Leader

Succumbing to pressure, Vinyas – the only dissenting voice against anti-hijab protests in the students union – resigned from his post. He, however, continues to be in the union as a students’ representative, he said.

“I liked being the students union president…But the hijab protest was a major hit to me because I was seeing it from a broader perspective. From the perspective of students, high court, college, and government,” he rued.

Meanwhile, several women students who were disallowed from wearing hijab have been missing classes.

The bitter experience has, however, not made him leave ABVP. “I want to stay with them. They have done good work. That is why I joined ABVP,” he said, adding that he continues to disagree with the outfit’s stand on anti-hijab protests.

“I disagreed with them. They have misunderstood what I wanted to convey.”
V Vinyas, ABVP Student Leader

‘I Went by My Conscience’

The ABVP leadership, however, did not think much of Vinyas’ resignation even as a leader confirmed to The Quint that he did indeed resign. “We’ll go for elections and get a new president,” ABVP Karnataka State Secretary Manikanta Kalasa said. He added, "There is no ABVP interference in the issue that happened in University College. The union only asked for the court and university order to be followed."

Vinyas, meanwhile, said that he does not regret what he did.

“Though the students union wanted me to be strict about this, I went by the students. I went by my conscience. I went by my friends.”
V Vinyas, ABVP Student Leader

As any true-blue ABVP leader would, he however, did stand by the organisation too. His Instagram post read, “Today I couldn’t come for protest because I was deeply saddened by the behaviour and threats…I am always with you.”

Is it possible to stay on in an outfit which does not allow one to have a studied individual opinion? “I am a little sad about it. I guess it is fine. Everybody can’t think the same way,” Vinyas said. He added that he will continue to conform to ABVP rules. Meanwhile, Chief Minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai has said that students "should concentrate on education" and let the "hijab issue" be.

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