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Karnataka Hijab controversy; what do we know so far

Image Source: NDTV

Karnataka has been shaken by a dispute that began in one region and quickly extended to the rest of the state since December 2021. In the district of Udupi, six Muslim girl students wearing Hijab were barred from entering the state-run Udupi Women’s Pre-University college. The principal of the college allegedly took this decision to maintain the ‘uniformity’ in the classrooms. Furthermore, a student of the group told BBC Hindi that students had to have their parents sign a form prohibiting them from wearing hijab on college grounds. The girls also expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that they were not permitted to talk in Urdu, Arabic, or Beary. In protest, the girls stood outside the classrooms for three days. According to the students, the principal disagreed to meet their parents when they had approached him to discuss the issue. 

While this issue was taking place, various students belonging to the Hindu faith wore saffron scarves/shawls to protest against allowing hijab-clad Muslim women in the classrooms. The Hindu had reported that other districts in the state faced a similar issue. 

However, in the Koppa district, the saffron scarf/shawl issue had been resolved through a parent meeting with the college authorities. Last week, a few students had demanded permission from the principal to wear saffron shawls as the Muslim girls wore hijabs. They had staged a protest to highlight their demand. To resolve the issue the principal of the college, Prof S Anantha, had convened a meeting on 10th January. It took place under the chairmanship of Sringeri MLA T.D. Raje Gowda (who is also the head of the College Development Committee). During the meeting, it came to light that none of the parents supported the idea of students wearing a saffron shawl to college. 

Furthermore, it was decided that girls could wear a hijab but could not tie it around with a pin. Furthermore, there was opposition to wearing saffron shawls as well. During the discussion, it was agreed that the institution would be able to take action against students who disobeyed the decision.

While the college in Koppa resolved the issue through a meeting, another protest occurred in Chikmagalur’s Indavara Dodda Siddalinge Gowda government college. Dalit students from the college wore blue scarves in solidarity with the Muslim girls who are seeking permission to wear hijab in schools and colleges. 

According to reports of Times of India, there was a standoff between two groups of students. One group of students wore saffron scarves and raised the slogan of Jai Shee Ram while the other group wore blue scarves raised the slogan of Jai Bhim. The standoff quickly outgrew management’s control, and the police were forced to intervene on behalf of the college authorities. Similar protests by Dalit students took place to show their solidarity with the Muslim girls. 

The protests have caught the attention of the state government. Two days ago, the state government invoked section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983. Under this section, students across Karnataka have to compulsorily wear uniform style of clothes. According to various news reports, this decision was taken to bar clothes that ‘disturb equality and public order. 

On 5th February, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai held a meeting with top government officials and B.C. Nagesh (the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education) on the issue. He asked all the educational institutions to follow the existing uniform rules till the High Court Decision. Moreover, due to the tensions spreading to other areas of Karnataka, the CM declared a three-day holiday for educational institutions. 

The Karnataka High court heard the case on 8th February and appealed to the students and the public to maintain peace. Justice Dixit Krishna Shripad stated that the court has the full wisdom and virtue of the public at large. Moreover, he stated that he hopes the court would practice the same. According to the Deccan Herald, the High Court said that the issue was being observed internationally which is not a good development. The court also stated that it will continue to hear the case the following day, on February 9th.
References: NDTV, The Hindu, The Indian Express and CNBC.  

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