Hijab Ban: Equality, dignity on trial for Muslim girl students in Karnataka

Karnataka Hijab Controversy: A non-profit studied hijab ban’s impact on education, social life, mental health of Muslim girl students in the state.

Hijab court verdict and its impact on Muslim girl students in Karnataka.Hijab court verdict and its impact on Muslim girl students in Karnataka.

Team Careers360 | September 13, 2022 | 10:30 AM IST

By Anu Parthiban and Sheena Sachdeva

NEW DELHI: The Karnataka High Court order that upheld the state government’s directive to ban hijab in educational institutions has not only imperiled the right to education but also other associated constitutional rights of Muslim girls, a study by the human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has found. It is a fight for equality and dignity that has been ongoing for nearly nine months.

While multiple dimensions on the hijab ban and the state government orders are discussed, less it talked about the plight of Muslim girl students in Karnataka. A six-member team of PUCL studied the “hardships endured and the struggles waged by Muslim women across the state and elsewhere to stand-up against an environment where hate is norm; coupled with the abysmal failure of the state to protect the rights of the minority community”.

Poorna Ravishankar, a lawyer and a member of the PUCL-Karnataka study team, said, “Nobody had actually gone to these women and spoken to them and asked what happened, how are they feeling, what was their experience with their college, friends and society. We tried to fill in the missing link through the study.”

Hijab Ban: Psychological impact

The PUCL team visited Hassan town, a village in rural Hassan district, Mangalore city, Ullal, Hoode, Udupi town, and Raichur town and interacted with the affected students across districts.

“The kind of psychological impact and the kind of toll it has taken on those girls’ interpersonal relationship with their friends and teachers is immense,” said Ravishankar. “The sense of betrayal they feel from their management that refuses to stand with them during this hour of crisis, especially when they had their final examination and the multiple battles with multiple stakeholders. I feel that we haven't been able to address these issues sufficiently.”

For these Muslim women students, the loss of contact and friendships with fellow students from other communities has “engendered a deep sense of isolation and depression”, the report said.

Appreciating the grit of thousands of young Muslim girl students, she said, “These girls want their dignity and equality back. And it’s extremely powerful coming from girls of age 16 or 17 year old.”

“One of the strongest things we learnt from these girls is courage. But this courage seems unfair as they were pushed to such an extent to showcase their courage,” she added.

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'Asking to choose between hijab, education unreasonable'

“Muslim students were not against dress code but they were requesting that the uniform should be a little flexible so that it could accommodate hijab,” Sumaiya Roshan, an advocate clarified.

“Hijab is not something that they started wearing a week or month ago. It has become a part of their identity. Suddenly asking them to remove it and asking them to choose between hijab and education is unreasonable,” she said.

Saying that the "hijab is an essential part of the practice is not is secondary", she added, "The Muslim girl students were forced to write exams without wearing hijab as most of them were appearing for their final examination. That kind of pressure and trauma is not appropriate." Their demands were reasonable, she said.

Expressing disappointment, she further told Careers360, "They (students who were protesting against hijab) are all students of the same classes, so this shows the kind of environment existing in the education system. It is not at all safe (for students)."

"You can't say everyone has to look in a certain way. What is more shocking and disappointing is the reaction of educational institutions and media. They were not concerned about the rights of the students. Besides the rights of the students, they were not concerned about the safety of students as there were protests inside and outside the college premises. This kind of shows a hostile kind of environment," she explained further on the hijab controversy.

Hijab ban case in Supreme Court

On the upcoming Supreme Court verdict on the Karnataka Hijab ban, Ravishankar said: “It is left to the Supreme Court to take its stand according to the evidence that is presented.” However, “These girls are confident that no matter what the verdict is, they will fight and they will fight until they have what they want. And this is exactly what the constitution promises to them. But the cry repeated in every town and college was that we want our equality and dignity back.”

Timeline of Karnataka Hijab ban

While the world was getting ready to welcome the new year 2022, Muslim students in Karnataka began fighting for their right to education and their choice of wear hijab. On December 31, the Karnataka government Pre-University College, Udupi denied entry to students wearing hijab inside classrooms. Six students started protesting against the move.

It was on January 3, 2022, students in Kundapur Government Pre-University College attended class wearing saffron shawls marking the first reported instance of students employing saffron stoles as a means of protest against the hijab.

As the protests continued, the Karnataka government set up an expert committee to resolve the controversy at the government PU college. Meanwhile, a writ petition was filed before the Karnataka High Court challenging the decision of the Government PU College in Udupi on January 31, 2022.

Other colleges in the state, including Government Junior PU College, Kundapur Udupi, and Bhandarkar College of Arts and Science, Udupi, also started denying entry for Hijab wearing students.

Following this, the Karnataka government on February 5 issued an order stating that the “prohibition of a headscarf or a garment covering the head is not a violation of Article 25 of the Constitution”.

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The state government had banned wearing clothes which “disturb equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges”, which was challenged in the high court. On March 15, the Karnataka High Court dismissed pleas seeking permission to wear hijab inside the classroom, saying that it is not a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith.

The Muslim girl students have been facing constant harassment, insult, and humiliation inside and outside classrooms ever since the Karnataka government order and it continued after the high court verdict.

There have also been incidents during this period where a Muslim student’s hijab was forcibly removed by the college teaching staff as well as by the police, under the glare of the media. In another incident, a Muslim woman student was sexually harassed during the exam.

Police presence on the campus during the period of the High Court hearings also had an intimidating effect on the Muslim students, the study said.

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