EXPLAINED: Karnataka’s ‘Hijab’ Row That Has Swept The State

| Updated: 09 February, 2022 3:36 pm IST
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The ‘Hijab’ row that kicked off a couple of months ago in the Government Pre-University college in Udupi in Karnataka has now spread across the state. Following the unrest in different parts of the state on Tuesday, the government declared a three-day holiday in colleges, universities and high schools above ninth standard.

“I appeal to all the students, teachers and management of schools and colleges as well as people of Karnataka to maintain peace and harmony. I have ordered closure of all high schools and colleges for next three days. All concerned are requested to cooperate,” the Chief Minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai tweeted.

The genesis

The controversy started on December 27, 2021, when six Muslim girls were denied entry into their classrooms in the Government PU college in Udupi. They proclaimed that wearing hijab is a part of their faith and it is their right to wear whatever they wish to.

The college principal, Rudra Gowda, said the students can wear hijabs in the school premises, but not inside the classrooms. The rule is being followed to ensure uniformity in classrooms. But his statement didn’t cut ice with the girls and they stood outside the classroom for three days in protest. They also accused that they had been marked absent and might face attendance shortage.

It is important to note that these girls did not wear ‘hijab’ in the classrooms before the recent uproar and adhered to the college’s ‘dress code’. In fact, the controversy erupted when suddenly they started insisting on wearing hijabs in the classrooms.

Their insistence led to counter protests in other colleges of the coastal Karnataka region, as many students came to colleges wearing saffron scarves. The Government PU college in Udupi then issued a directive banning both hijabs and saffron scarves in the classrooms, and called upon students to adhere to the prescribed dress code.

The local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Udupi is a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Raghupati Bhat. He also heads the Development Monitoring Committee (DMC) of the Government PU college. He stated that this college has had a uniform code since 1985 for students and all of them have been adhering to it since then. The BJP MLA also said that the state government makes it mandatory for students to wear college uniform.

Later, on February 3, more than 20 Muslim girls in Kundapura’s Government Pre-University college were barred from entering classrooms for wearing ‘hijab’. However, unlike the Udupi college, here the girls have been wearing hijab in classrooms for a long time. The sudden move to ban the ‘hijab’ was triggered by an incident a day ago in the college. On February 2, a group of students belonging to the same college protested against ‘hijab’ by wearing saffron scarves and stoles. This forced the college to ban both ‘hijab’ and saffron scarves.

The college authorities and Kunbdapura BJP MLA, Halady Srinivas Shetty, held a meeting with parents of Muslim girls, but it ended in a stalemate.

Since then, many girls from both the colleges have approached the High Court seeking permission to wear hijab in classrooms.

The law by the state government

The state government of Karnataka doesn’t enforce any dress code on school or college students, but it has left the decisions regarding it to individual colleges and their Development Monitoring Committees (DMCs). That means every government college through its DMC can prescribe or decide upon the dress code that is to be followed.

The Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh said: “Rules have been framed in 2013 and 2018 on the basis of the Karnataka Education Act, according to which educational institutions and its SDMC (School Development and Monitoring Committee) have the right to prescribe the uniform to its students.”

Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said that the uniform code of a school should be followed. “It helps the children to forget the differences and unite as Indians. Religion should be kept away from education and students should neither come wearing hijab nor saffron shawls to schools,” he stated.

The Karnataka government’s Department for Pre-University Education issued an order on February 5. It has not made uniforms compulsory in PU colleges, but has argued that banning hijabs for students attending classes is not a violation of the right to practise their religion. The order bans clothes which “disturb equality, integrity and public order.”

The government order also invokes section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, which says that a uniform has to be worn compulsorily. “The private school administration can choose a uniform of their choice,” it says.

The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday asked students, holding protests, to maintain peace and tranquillity. “Only a mischievous section will keep the issue burning,” Justice Krishna Dixit, who has been hearing petitions filed by students, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

On Wednesday, he referred the case to a larger bench. “These matters give rise to certain constitutional questions of seminal importance in view of certain aspects of personal law,” he said, referring it to a panel of judges to be led by the Chief Justice of the Karnataka HC Ritu Raj Awasthi.

“In view of the enormity of questions of importance which were debated, the court is of the considered opinion that the Chief Justice should decide if a larger bench can be constituted in the subject matter,” he added.

The political slugfest

Ever since the controversy erupted, a host of national and state Congress leaders have thrown their weight behind Muslim girls who are protesting against the banning of ‘hijab’ in classrooms.

The former Congress president Rahul Gandhi remarked that the future of Indian daughters was being robbed. “By letting students’ hijab come in the way of their education, we are robbing the future of the daughters of India. Ma (mother) Saraswati gives knowledge to all. She doesn’t differentiate,” he tweeted.

His sister Priyanka Gandhi tweeted: “Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear. This right is GUARANTEED by the Indian constitution. Stop harassing women.”

The Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah said the Indian Constitution gives the right to practice religion, which means one can wear clothes as per their religion. He stated prohibiting students wearing the hijab from entering schools is a violation of their fundamental rights.

The state president of Congress DK Shivakumar alleged that ‘hijab’ row is a conspiracy to poison young minds. “Hijab row is an insult to our country and against the tradition of the land,” he added. He also alleged that the BJP is trying to create unrest among the students and public over the issue.

On the other hand, Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh claimed that there are “hidden hands” behind the ‘hijab’ controversy as attempts are on to make it international news. “Some people who are against this country, as part of propaganda, are doing this. They are unable to digest India’s standing globally and the respect our Prime Minister is getting internationally,” he said.

BJP’s state president Nalin Kumar Kateel claimed that the state government will not allow the ‘Talibanisation’ of the education system.

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