For nearly a month, a government college in Karnataka’s Udupi district has banned students from wearing hijab inside the classroom. Seven of the college’s Muslim students demanded that the principal must allow them to attend classes while wearing a hijab. But they were denied entry.
The principal of the Government Women’s Pre-University College, Udupi, has said that he was enforcing the ban to maintain “uniformity”. The college, built in 1985, has around 700 students, including 70 Muslim students, studying in the Science, Arts, and Commerce branches.
Initially, there were 12 Muslim students who had demanded that the authority must allow them to wear the hijab during class hours. But, since then, the number has since reduced to seven. Those still resisting the ban say the others gave in to the college’s threats of not issuing hall tickets for final exams. According to college authorities, students can wear hijab until classes start. Classes start at 9.30 am and end at 4 pm.
A protesting student, who did not want her identity disclosed, said, “We are asking for our fundamental rights and nothing else. The college is trying to portray us in a bad light for demanding our rights. The principal will not allow us inside the college till we fall in line. It has been 20 days, and they have marked us absent.”
Rudre Gowda, principal of the college, said, “I allow the girls to wear hijab and or burqa till they reach their desk, but once the class starts, they must remove it. Though there is no uniform policy or guidelines, this has been the rule for the past 37 years. But now, these issues are polluting the college environment.”
“We have already discussed (the issue) in meetings with parents. We were able to convince many of them who have studied here. But students who are protesting did not bring their parents, but came with their relatives or members of students’ organizations and continued it (the protest). This is not specifically a problem of this college, but also of other colleges too. I have already sent a report to the education department and have sought to bring a uniform policy,” Gowda added.
Masood Manna, of the students’ group Campus Front of India, said, “We have met the Udupi DC in this regard… but it is only the college principal who is against it (the entry of girls wearing hijab). He holds a meeting once in a while, which is an eyewash. But what stops them from allowing girls to enter with hijab. It is their choice to make.”
This is not the first such incident in Karnataka in recent years. Similar incidents have been reported in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, and Chikkamagaluru districts.
An officer in the state’s Department Of Pre-University Education said the department would now be coming out with a uniform policy for students. “It is… disturbing the environment of the colleges. We will soon release the uniform policy,” the official said.
Civil society group Campaign Against Hate Speech condemned the college action in a statement. “The denial of entry for hijab-wearing Muslim students is an instance of institutional discrimination and should be seen in the socio-political context of violence against Muslims in the country, more specifically targeting Muslim women in multifarious ways,” the group said.