The families of five girls who appeared for the SSC exams at a Byculla school on Thursday claimed that the students were forced to take off their hijabs before appearing for the exams. Although the Maharashtra board permits students to wear hijabs and burkhas during exams, the school allegedly refused the five girls entry to the exam hall unless they removed their head scarves.
“A woman teacher refused to let them enter the school building in a hijab,” said the brother of one of the students. “They had to take off their hijab in the school corridor, in front of other students.”
He added that taking off the hijab meant his sister had to appear for the exam in her night clothes. “As she was getting late for the exam, she had just worn the hijab over her night clothes,” said the brother. “She felt very uncomfortable appearing for the exam like that.”
Despite repeated attempts, official of the school were unavailable for comment. Upset by the incident, the students’ families telephoned the board helpline to report the incident. “We called up the board to check the rules on wearing hijabs and were told that it is permitted,” said the brother.
Siddheshwar Chandekar, secretary of the board’ s Mumbai division, confirmed that the students should have been allowed to wear their hijabs. “There is no rule in the state board that disallows students from wearing hijabs or burkhas,” said Chandekar.
He added, “If a supervisor suspects that a student is hiding notes underneath, then a woman teacher can take the child aside, ask her to remove the hijab and frisk her. If they do not find anything suspicious, they should allow the student to don the garment again and continue writing the paper.”
The students’ parents also approached the National Students Union of India (NSUI) after the incident. NSUI representatives met the school principal in the after noon, after the exam. “The principal apologised for her mistake and she said that had been appointed to the post recently and hence was unaware of the rules,” said Heena Kanojia, national co-ordinator, NSUI. “We showed the school a government resolution issued by the state’s school education department which states that students should be allowed to write their exams wearing hijabs.”
Last year, the school had faced criticism after allegedly making 40 girls stand in the sun for taking a day off for Lailat al-Qadr, when devout Muslims stay up all night. Parents and local politicians had staged massive protests outside the school.