Udupi: As they have been doing for weeks now, five students of a women’s Pre-University (PU) college in Karnataka’s Udupi district arrived at the institution’s gates Monday morning, their heads covered with a hijab (headscarf). With the institute banning entry to students wearing hijab since December last year, the five — A.H. Almas, H. Shifa, Aliya Assadi and two minor students aged 17, remained standing outside the gates of the college.
PU or junior college is how classes 11 and 12 are referred to in Karnataka. So, the first PU is Class 11 and the second PU is Class 12.
All five students, represented by their parents, have petitioned the Karnataka High Court, seeking its intervention to allow them to attend classes in hijab, and the HC is set to hear the matter Tuesday. On Saturday, the Karnataka government ordered a ban on clothes which disturb equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges.
“I am hopeful that the judge in this case will give us a positive response. I have hope that he will uphold constitutional values and value our guaranteed right to wear a hijab. Constitution already assures equality and education to us. I don’t understand why the Karnataka government is not (doing so),” A.H. Almas, a student of 2nd PUC told ThePrint Monday.
What started as a disagreement over the wearing of hijab between a small section of Muslim girls and the management of the Udupi Women’s PU College, has now taken on political and ideological colours, with demonstrations being witnessed across Karnataka, and a section of Hindu students wearing saffron scarves as protest against Muslim students wearing hijab.
“There are 1,000 students in our college, of which about 100 are Muslims. None of them have an issue except this group of indisciplined and irregular students,” alleged Rudre Gowda, principal of the Udupi Women’s PU College, while speaking to ThePrint Monday.
“They are poor in academics and their attendance and report cards have been sent to the minority welfare board too. They are beyond help and blackmailing us. We have held talks with their parents and community leaders multiple times and they have understood that the girls are acting under the influence of someone else,” said Gowda, one of the respondents to the girls’ high court petition.
While the students agree that there are more than 90 Muslim girls who attend classes without hijab, they are not the first ones here to wear it, nor have they taken to wearing it recently, they claim. “It is a lie that we started wearing hijabs only now. Some of our seniors used to wear hijab too. Sometimes, the teachers would try to pull it off and the pin used to secure the hijab would cause wound and bleeding. We have been discriminated against and harassed for wearing hijab for years,” H. Shifa, another second PUC student, alleged.
Also read: A timeline of how hijab row took centre stage in Karnataka politics and reached HC
‘This is Hindu Rashtra’ says college committee V-P
Meanwhile, Yashpal Suvarna, vice-president of the Udupi Government Women’s PU College development committee and a BJP leader, said “Hijab doesn’t feature in our mandated dress code” for the college.
“When the word doesn’t exist, it means it isn’t allowed,” Suvarna told ThePrint.
“This is Hindu Rashtra. If ‘they’ are opposing ‘our’ culture then ‘we’ have to unite, else there won’t be any result,” he added, when asked if Hindu organisations were asking Hindu students to wear saffron scarves in protest against the wearing of hijab by Muslims.
He also accused the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Popular Front of India (PFI) of instigating the five students through the Campus Front of India (CFI), which has rejected the claim.
“We are merely helping the Muslim girl students because they approached us after the college authorities refused to let them inside classrooms,” Masood Manna, committee member of the Udupi District CFI, told ThePrint. He mentioned that the “help” included drafting and submitting memorandums to district education officials, mobilising support from other students and community leaders for the girl students, and arranging for press meets etc.
“We are an organisation working for student welfare and do not want to bring politics into it. In fact, it is BJP leaders who instigated Hindu students to wear saffron scarves and politicised the issue,” Manna claimed.
The rift over the wearing of headscarves has spread to other educational institutions in the district and state.
R.N. Shetty PU college in Udupi district’s Kundapur town declared holiday for students till Wednesday, after some 200 Hindu students arrived on campus Friday wearing saffron scarves, and demanded that they be allowed to wear it, since Muslim students are allowed to wear the hijab. College authorities then banned entry to both sets of students. The college is now waiting Tuesday’s High Court order to resolve the issue.
“I had called a parent-teacher meeting Monday, but cancelled it because we first need to know what the High Court says,” Naveen Shetty, principal of the college, told ThePrint.
Narayana Shetty, principal of another college in Kundapur, the Bhandarkar College, also added: “We are not allowing anyone in hijab or in saffron scarf. My college is not a place for politics and anything that disrupts harmony won’t be allowed.”
Staff at the college said Muslim girls who were adamant on wearing the hijab had not attended college Monday.
Local police too have their eyes trained on the high court decision. According to sources in the Kunadapur police station, some 150 police personnel have been deployed in groups across all colleges in the town.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
Also read: Kundapur PU college allows hijab-wearing students in campus, but no teaching & no classes