Minister BC Nagesh says politics at play as hijab row takes Karnataka by storm

Feb 11, 2022 08:00 PM IST

In an exclusive interview to HT's Kumkum Chadha, when asked if his government would allow students to wear a turban on the educational premises, the Karnataka education minister said "wearing a turban is a constitutional-specific norm".

Karnataka is in the midst of a raging controversy with Muslim girls seeking to assert their right to wear the hijab to educational institutes. Recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the state banned Muslim girls from attending classes in the headscarves following which protests erupted in parts of the state leading to closure of schools.

Students taking out a protest march against Hijab row.
Students taking out a protest march against Hijab row.

How justified is this ban? Is politics playing out in Karnataka or is it BJP's anti-Muslim rant? To understand this, HT spoke to Karnataka's education minister BC Nagesh. During an exclusive conversation withKumkum Chadha, the education minister downplayed the entire controversy, while blaming external forces for triggering the row for vested political interests.

Nagesh said the Udupi college is an old one where the uniform was introduced in 1985. All students in educational institutions are prescribed to wear a uniform and students have been following the same for years. “No child was wearing this hijab. But somehow in December, some students started coming to the college wearing hijab," he said.

Dubbing the initial incident as a "very small” one, Nagesh said the girls were told to not wear hijab by local MLAs and various leaders, but they "were adamant on wearing the head covering… Finally, the management had to tell the girls to not follow their religious practices on the college/school premises".

"The students coming to the college/schools need to follow the uniform mandate," the BJP leader added. "Hijab is not part of the uniform. Hence, you can not wear it in schools or colleges," the education minister said.

Speaking on counter-protests by students wearing saffron shawls and coming to the college, Nagesh said till February 2, there was no blue vs saffron in the state. It was only after some political parties said that wearing hijab is a"constitutional right" that worsened the "problem”.

"If there is a right to wear a hijab then it is a right to saffron – shawl, cap, etc. It was a reaction after a political leader said that a hijab is a religious right and supported in the article apprentice of the Constitution," Nagesh added.

On being asked whether his party is trying to leverage the issue, Nagesh said, "If the BJP wanted to jump in, it could have done it in December end or January first week. We would not have waited till February to speak on the matter."

Stating that "not following the uniform is indiscipline," Nagesh said the girls were also told this by their own leaders in the community as well.

Speaking on the objection of wearing hijab over the uniform, Nagesh said it is part of "religious practice" which goes against the rules.

When asked whether his government would allow students to wear a turban on the educational premises, he said, "wearing a turban is a constitutional-specific norm."

"One should not "compare... This one is a provision made in the Constitution," the minister said.

Dubbing the holy saffron thread that is worn by many Hindus around their wrist as part of beautification, Nagesh said, "All such things are part of their makeup… If some girl is putting on lipstick, can I say that the lipstick is part of the uniform?"

He further said the state government will also not allow Hindu girls to wear a 'dupatta' to cover their heads. "It is the duty of the girls to remain disciplined and follow a uniform," the education minister added.

Denying reports of some Dalit members coming in support of the protest, Nagesh said, "No one has supported this... society is not divided. Let's not divide educational institutions on the basis of caste, religion… Schools are not a place to follow any religious practice," Nagesh added.

Those who are in favour of the protests have raised concerns that if the government allows hijab in educational institutions, then more religious practices will follow. Nagesh said, "When you allow one practice, naturally more such customs will follow… Not just in Muslims, in other religions as well," he added.

On being asked whether the clothes disturb the integrity of a society, Nagesh spoke about its nature of being religious and underlined that the "prescribed uniform does not have hijab".

Without naming any other political party, Nagesh said, "Wherever BJP is in power, a political party will create some disturbance. It is part of their history."

"There is a clear cut political background to this (the protests)... even the liars who are appearing for girls are from a political party."

"There will always be some forces which you and I can not see but they are behind such things so that the development of the country is stopped," Nagesh said.

He further noted several Muslim countries around the world have also banned the burqa, hijab.

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