‘Leave Education If You Want To Wear The Hijab’: Colleges In India Shut Gates On Muslim Girls

The breakdown of law and order forced the local government to close educational institutions for three days. The government also issued an order that bans clothing that can “disturb harmony and public order”.

The breakdown of law and order forced the local government to close educational institutions for three days. The government also issued an order that bans clothing that can “disturb harmony and public order”.

NEW DELHI, India — A video clip of a Muslim girl shouting ‘Allah u Akbar’ as she is heckled by a group of Hindu extremists at her college has sparked massive outrage in India amidst growing tensions over the ban on hijab in colleges in the state of Karnataka.

Bibi Muskan Khan, 19, was making her way to the classroom when the men blocked her way yelling ‘Jai Shree Ram’, a religious chant that has over the years become a rallying cry for Hindu extremists. She stood her ground as she responded to the mob bravely by shouting ‘Allah u Akbar’.

“I was initially scared But as soon as I took the name of Allah, I felt courageous and shouted Allahu Akbar,”  She told me in an interview for the Article-14 website.

After the clip went viral Muskan emerged as the icon of the growing resistance against the ban on hijab that began more than a month ago after a college stopped a group of six Muslim girls from sitting in a classroom because they had their heads covered.

Since last week, more colleges have joined in the state-enforced bans on the use of the Muslim headscarf after Hindu students at the behest of extremist groups protested in saffron-colored shawls.

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“The college authorities did not open the gate even as we protested asking under what rules they were being denied entry,” said Taskeen (name changed), a student at a government college in the state’s Udupi district.

“They did not allow us inside the college, not even for the washroom. We used the washroom of a hospital nearby. We are being made to suffer. No one understands our feelings. We are treated like beggars. They did not even talk to our parents. No one from the college is supporting us.”

She said that an official told them that their high court order did not allow hijab in colleges but he did not show them the order.

“He asked us to sit at home and leave education if you want to wear the hijab,” Taskin recalled, her voice carrying a tinge of helplessness.

On Tuesday tensions escalated in the parts of the state as violence was reported from a number of colleges after Hindu students wearing saffron shawls marched in colleges in protests against the hijab. At some places, the situation turned ugly following standoffs among students and clashes with police who resorted to teargas shelling.

The breakdown of law and order forced the local government to close educational institutions for three days. The government also issued an order that bans clothing that can “disturb harmony and public order”.

The girls have also petitioned the state high court, arguing that they should be allowed to wear hijab on campus and in classrooms without having to give up their right to education. On Wednesday, the court restrained students from wearing religious clothing until the court decided on the matter as it adjourned the hearing for early next week.

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Rebecca John, a prominent lawyer in New Delhi, termed the court injunction “a little extraordinary”.

“This is virtually suspending Article-25, referring to a fundamental law in the Indian constitution that guarantees right to religion,” John told The Muslim Vibe.

The row around hijab first started in late December in a government pre-university college in the state’s Udupi district when a group of six Muslim girls were banned from sitting in class for wearing the headscarf. The girls instead of giving in resisted defiantly and their protests caught massive attention and sparked anger among the Muslim community in the country. But the college authorities, apparently under the pressure from Hindu nationalist groups, showed stubbornness.

Since then it has snowballed into a major issue as more colleges in the coastal districts of the state have banned the entry of hijab-wearing Muslim students. The colleges say that the students should maintain a dress code arguing that the hijab violates uniformity. The Hindu students have started wearing saffron scarves and have been seen taking out rallies in protest against the hijab.

The ban comes at a time of sharp spike in violence by Hindu extremists in Karnataka targeting Muslims and Christians. The state is currently being governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, which has been accused of patronising extremist groups as well as institutionalizing policies against minorities.

In November, the state passed a law that effectively bans religious conversions after Hindu groups raised bogus claims that Christians and Muslims were forcefully converting Hindus to their religions.

Siddaramaiah, a top leader of the opposition party Congress in the state, called the ban “inhuman and unconstitutional” as he accused the government of “trying to create communal disharmony throughout the State in the name of hijab.”

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The issue has made international headlines with Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and French footballer Paul Pogba coming out in support of the girls’ right to wear hijab. Malala asked Indian leaders to “stop the marginalisation of Muslim women”.

The college authorities and leaders of the governing party however argue that religious clothing should not be allowed inside educational institutions. But activists say the opposition is rooted in the anti-Muslim policies of the Hindu nationalist government.

“Hijab ban is a conspiracy against Muslim community,” said Afra Ali, a student leader associated with Campus Front of India, a student group that has come out in support of girls. “They are afraid that Muslim women are getting empowered through education. They don’t want our empowerment,” Ali told The Muslim Vibe.

The college girls say they have been wearing hijab for years and there has never been an issue in the past. “But now suddenly they are making it controversial,” said Taskeen. “What problem do they have with hijab? Do we create any problems for anyone? It is part of our life.”