‘Targeted Harassment’: Muslim Girls in India Denounce Hijab Ban

Visuals of Muslim students being shut outside college gates in Karnataka state for wearing the hijab have led to outrage on social media.

By Rushda Fathima Khan

Protest in Udupi district attended by the six girls who first protested against the hijab ban [Al Jazeera]

Bengaluru, India – For four days a group of 28 Muslim girls stood in protest in front of the Junior Pre-University college in the Karnataka state after they were denied entry for wearing hijab – an issue that has snowballed to other colleges in the southern state.

On Monday morning Farheen (name changed) and her friends were allowed to enter the premises of the college located in the coastal town of Kundapur in Udupi district, but they were in for a shock after college authorities did not allow them to sit in their respective classrooms with other students.

On the same day, the college officials posted a notice outside the gate declaring prohibition of hijab in classrooms as part of the college uniform code.

“Our teachers told us they will not allow our entry in classrooms or teach us without government orders”, Farheen, a commerce student, told Al Jazeera.

It left Farheen and her friends “hurt and humiliated”.

An official from the education department visited the girls while they were seated in a separate classroom. “Give up on your hijab. If you hold on to this, you will lose out on your education’, he told us,” Farheen recounted.

“How is it fair that other students are being taught and we are told to sit separately and self-study just for wearing a headscarf,” said Farheen’s friend, who also wanted to remain anonymous.

“We used to sit in class all these years with hijab. Now suddenly, they are treating us like criminals and keeping us in a separate classroom. We are hurt.”

The decision of the Kundapur college to segregate Muslim girls, however, has angered students and activists who called it a form of “religious apartheid” and “untouchability”, a reference to the banned practice of discrimination against members of lower castes in the Hindu socio-religious hierarchy.

The Campus Front of India (CFI), an organisation of Muslim students active in southern Indian states said in a statement on Sunday that a ban on hijab is “an organised nationwide conspiracy [that] is systematically executed by the right-wing Hindutva [Hindu-ness] groups to dehumanise Muslim women”.

Outrage, Protests

Visuals of students being shut outside the gate by several colleges in the state have caused mounting outrage among the Muslim minority and triggered protests since last week, with rights groups alleging that the move violates the rights of Muslim students to practice their religion and access education.

The tensions escalated after students and activists allegedly backed by Hindu nationalist groups started to wear saffron colour scarves, calling for hijab ban in educational institutions in the state – where Muslims form 12 percent of the population.

Protest against the hijab ban in Kalaburgi district [Al Jazeera]

On Tuesday, students and Hindu right-wing activists were seen marching into campuses wearing scarves and turbans in many colleges across the state and in some cases, clashing with police.

A viral video showing a student in hijab being heckled by a group of Hindu men in Mandya district has caused an online outrage, with many hailing the girl for her bravery in standing up to the “mob”.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced a three-day closure of educational institutes across the state and appealed for calm.

“I appeal to all students, teachers and management of schools and colleges, as well as people of Karnataka, to maintain peace and harmony,” Bomai said in a tweet.

Last week, his government issued a directive that all educational institutions should follow dress codes set by management.