Shattered dreams, hostile environment: Muslim women students dropping out of college, says report

Muslim women students were deprived of their constitutional and fundamental rights leading to drop-out from education.

In the monsoon session 2022 of the Karnataka Assembly, the ministry of primary and secondary education informed 1,010  total drop outs of hijab-wearing girls because of the hijab ban. (Image Source: Shutterstock)In the monsoon session 2022 of the Karnataka Assembly, the ministry of primary and secondary education informed 1,010 total drop outs of hijab-wearing girls because of the hijab ban. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Sheena Sachdeva | January 9, 2023 | 07:58 PM IST

NEW DELHI: The report titled ‘Closing the Gates to Education Violations of rights of Muslim women students in Karnataka’ released by PUCL, Karnataka, on Monday mentioned that hijab wearing Muslim women students were harassed and humiliated by their institutes and forced to choose between continuing their education and wearing the hijab.

Since December 2021, students across Karnataka have faced violations of their fundamental rights, specifically, their right to education, right to dignity, right to freedom of expression, right to privacy, right to non-discrimination and right against arbitrary state action, the report mentioned.

The Supreme Court had delivered a split verdict on the hijab ban in October 2022 after the high court of Karnataka had upheld the judgement on a blanket ban on hijab in educational institutions. For now the matter is referred to the Chief Justice of India for the constitution of a larger bench in the matter.

In the monsoon session 2022 of the Karnataka Assembly, the ministry of primary and secondary education responded with 1,010 total drop outs of hijab-wearing girls because of the hijab ban.

Further, the sudden implementation of the blanket ban of the hijab before the end of the academic year, especially during examinations of students, shocked Muslim students across the state. Students informed PUCL, “While we were wearing hijab for ten years and after the high court judgement, we were forced to remove the hijab in public places and our own educational institutions made us feel quite distressed, unsafe and humiliated.”

But the report mentions that district administration officials neither received any written orders from higher authorities nor gave instructions to college administrators in writing regarding the blanket hijab ban. "Their action against Muslim students and parents and their refusal to document their grievances or take any legal action against Hindutva groups harassing Muslim students, revealed their prejudiced and biased approach towards Muslims," mentioned the report.

The report described how the students in the five districts across Karnataka; Hassan, Dakshin Kannada, Udupi, Raichur and Shimoga were impacted during the course of the events and the judgement of the high court.

Also Read | Keep quiet or else...: A year after Hijab ban, Muslim students still face discrimination

Harassment from teachers, repetition of classes

Many Muslim students were made to stand outside the gate of the institute for the whole day soon after the interim order was issued by the Karnataka high court in January 2022, stated the report. Due to the hijab ban, several students considered transferring to educational institutions which allowed wearing hijab. A student studying in a government degree college in Udupi said in the report, “After being forced to make a difficult choice, I left my college and searched for colleges that allowed the hijab but it's difficult to travel. I feel that my dreams are shattered.”

Further, the teachers of the institute threatened the students to not enter classes with hijab. A girl student from Raichur, Karnataka studying BEd said in the report, “Due to this, I lost my marks in my internals, and did not get any experience in teaching during my course. They told me to take leave and promised me that my attendance will not be harmed. Regardless, I lost valuable experience and evaluation of my teaching skills. As educators, what are their priorities?”

Another student studying her pre-university in Raichur district informed about the hostile environment in the institutes which is impacting the education of the students said, “The classroom has become an extremely horrifying space. There is a lot of hostility carefully cultivated in our colleges by right wing forces. This has deeply affected Muslim women students. It is very frightening to enter the campus alone.”

When deputy director, Primary Education Department, Udupi was questioned on the behaviour by PUCL team, he said, “Schools across Udupi have witnessed absolutely no dropouts or absentees in exams.” According to a recent report, the enrolment in government pre-university colleges in Udupi has fallen by half from the previous years.

Further, in the monsoon session 2022 of the Karnataka Assembly, the ministry of primary and secondary education responded with 1,010 total drop outs of hijab-wearing girls because of the hijab ban.

While students tried to negotiate with the college administration for some support, they were denied. In Dakshina Kannada district, a law student requested permission to write her examination wearing a cap on her head. But her request caused commotion and rude behaviour from the faculty, leaving students distressed. “We were marked absent and missed four to five subjects in our ninth semester,” she added. Another student added, “These incidents affected not just our performance in the examination, but also were extremely stressful and affected our overall health.”

In several instances students chose to repeat the year again. A student from Hassan, Karnataka mentioned in the report, said: “I was not allowed to write my second pre-university examinations because of the high court judgement. I am repeating the 2nd year now because I do not want to give up on my studies.” Many such students couldn't transfer to other colleges as they couldn’t afford other private and minority-run institutions.

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

Denied scholarships, no staff support

The government order did not issue any directive to the CDCs to prohibit the hijab, but in an insidious manner

Many muslim students across the districts of Karnataka were denied scholarships by the college authorities. A student in Dakshina Kannada district informed PUCL, “Our college has stopped giving scholarships to muslim girls, claiming that there is a notice from the College Development Committees (CDC).” The student mentioned many colleges despite being a government college, CDC had no authority, but still the scholarships were revoked.

After submitting their examination fees, many students in the government degree colleges were not allowed to write exams. Despite approaching principals and CDC, no resort was provided.

Also Read | Hijab Row: ‘I choose what part of my body I want to cover,’ says academic Azra Razzack

Right-wing politics, police patrolling, discrimination

A student from rural Dakshina Kannada district said in the report, “There is heavy right-wing politics present on our campus. Even the few Muslim professors on our campus did not support us.” Another student from Udupi said, “When we were getting threatening messages from Hindu boys, we felt very isolated.”

The report mentioned that later hindu boys started sharing messages and uploading WhatsApp statuses taunting muslim girls and harassed them online.

Students also mentioned police officials were constantly patrolling and were posted inside the college campus throughout the period from the interim order to the final verdict. Students from a government college in Udupi, said, “This scared us and made us feel threatened in our own college,” mentioned the report.

In Raichur, students shared that in a few institutions muslim students were made to sit in separate rooms. “This made us feel like we were being deliberately segregated for being muslims,” mentioned the report.

Also read | 'Fourth incident in three months': Kashmiri students say attacks on them rising

Silent government

While the muslim women students were being harassed by teachers and right-wing students, the state government continued to be a mute spectator.

The education department of the government of Karnataka, issued a misleading order in February 2022, indicating that the hijab can be restricted in some educational institutions. “When some of the affected students approached the court, in Resham v. State of Karnataka, the Karnataka High Court issued an interim order and a final verdict that upheld a prohibition on the hijab. Even though the verdict does not issue a directive to institutions to impose a sweeping ban with immediate effect, in one stroke, educational institutions across the state banned the hijab,” the report said.

Both police and the government failed to support the muslim women students due to their biases against them. “College authorities also treated students with disrespect and contempt. The police failed to fulfill their responsibility towards those who were made to be extremely vulnerable,” mentioned the report.

Regardless of the limited scope of the high court order which upheld the ban on hijab in education institutions. When district administration officials were asked about how they executed the implementation of the interim order and the judgement, they informed the PUCL team that they acted on the instructions given orally by the district commissioner’s office,

“They failed to follow procedures to enforce a change in the uniform rules or dress code, and never notified the students and parents at the time of their admission. Instead of listening to their students’ concerns and ensuring their safety and dignity in their educational spaces, most principals and headmasters called up the police to quell the students’ protests,” said the report.

The high court judgement did not include any directive to any educational institution to impose a hijab ban with immediate effect. The report mentioned, “This is important to note because the judgement and the preceding interim order had far-reaching consequences on the lives of muslim students, especially because it was the time when end-of-year examinations took place.”

Muslim women students while speaking to the media throughout the last year expressed their struggle to fight for their right to continue their education with no support neither from the government nor the education system.

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