After suddenly deciding to deny entry to Muslim girls wearing hijab, the Government Pre University College in Kundapur in Karnataka, India, has stopped 20 girls at the college gate from attending campus.
A video has surfaced in which the college principal is himself seen closing the gates on the students donning the hijab. The girls are seen pleading with the principal reminding him that their exams are just two months away.
“We are students, we have been wearing the hijab to college for so long, it is about our career,” the girls are heard saying, in a video that has been widely circulated. One of the girls is seen crying and pleading with the principal to let them in. The students say that they have been wearing hijab in the college for years, but suddenly the college has made an issue out of it.
Until recently, Muslim students donning hijab in colleges and universities didn’t face harassment from the authorities, but it has taken centre stage after last month a group of Muslim students were forced to sit outside of the classroom.
They have not been allowed to enter their classrooms for a month and one of the students has now moved to Karnataka High Court asking for redress. They insist that the hijab is part of their faith thus would not return to the classes without donning it.
Karnataka is ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing political party that is currently governing India under the leadership of Narendra Modi, a life-long member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a radical Hindu group in India who aspire to make India an ethno-religious state.
On Wednesday a group of right-wing students in the college wore saffron shawls in a protest demanding a ban on the Muslim women wearing hijab on the campus. It compelled the college authorities along with Kundapur’s BJP lawmaker, Halady Srinivas Shetty, to hold a meeting with the parents of the Muslim students.
A parent during the meeting asked the authorities: “What are we asking? To wear the hijab — that is the Islamic rule. It is our culture, we have to do that. The government is taking time to decide on the issue, why not let them wear it till then? Why are you opposing? Why is the college principal opposing? You told them not to come inside and stay outside the gate. You should not create a controversy with students, sir.”
MLA Halady Srinivas Shetty told The News Minute website: “Earlier, there were few students wearing the hijab but now a lot of students in a group were wearing the hijab. Yesterday, there was also a group of students wearing saffron shawls in this college. There is a government order asking for the status quo to be maintained till the expert committee discusses the issue. So, the principal has asked the students wearing hijab to go back.”
The controversies have spilt over to at least five other colleges in the state as well. Over the last month colleges in Chikkamagaluru, Mangaluru, Shivamogga, and two colleges in Kundapur have been marred with similar controversies.
Protests by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student group affiliated with BJP, are holding protests across the colleges in Chikkamagaluru, Mangaluru and Shivamogga with its activists wearing saffron shawls around their necks.
One of the students of Udupi College said: “If the saffron scarf is compulsory for the religion, let them wear it. In our culture, we have to wear the hijab.”
Similarly, Muslim students wearing hijab from Bhandarkars’ College of Kundapur were also stopped at the entrance of the college. The principal told students that according to government guidelines the students have to come to classes in uniforms and the hijab is not part of that. Although all the girls who were denied entry had college uniforms, they were still not permitted on the campus.
A group of radical right-wing Hindu groups chanting “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram), one of the deities worshipped by Hindus, were also present at the gate with saffron shawls around their necks.
Meanwhile, Araga Jnanendra, Karnataka Home Minister, said: “Naqab, burqa, hijab, saffron or green shawls are not allowed in the classrooms. The Minister for Education has already stated that uniforms are compulsory. There should not be any divisive factors in the academic environment. There are mosques, churches and temples for religious practices. With these developments, the etiquette of integrity is being challenged.”
Aliya Assadi, one of the students told The Quint: “We are practising Muslims, and the hijab is a part of our faith. Along with that, we are also students with aspirations for a career and a good life. Why we are suddenly expected to choose between our identity and our education? That isn’t fair at all.”