Students clash over hijab dispute in Karnataka
Students and classmates, who shared lunches, games and their most memorable years together, stared and screamed each other down over displaying their faiths
The hijab controversy took an ugly turn in Karnataka’s Udupi district on Tuesday when students at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College shouted slogans against each other on displaying their religious faiths, adding to the already vitiated communal climate in several districts in the state.
At least 25 men sporting saffron shawls and headgear gathered outside the gates of the college but were denied entry. Some girls wearing hijab who were already inside the campus approached the gates and started shouting that they wanted justice.
The students outside the gates retorted with chants of “Jai Shri Ram”. Some jumped the fence and continued to shout slogans. Teachers formed human shields to keep the two warring groups away from each other. Several police personnel, in uniform and plain clothes, also tried to pacify the students.
“Why are we forced to choose between our faith and education?” one of the students asked as most others continued to shout slogans.
Students and classmates, who shared lunches, games and their most memorable years together, stared and screamed each other down over displaying their faiths.
“They say beti bachao, beti padhao, and now it’s beti mele shoshane athaide (exploiting the daughter),” said a student wearing a headscarf.
Bhargavi, a saffron-clad student, said: “We did not start it. Schools are not meant as a place to display religion. They (Muslim girls) are not relenting from their stand.”
“They (Muslim) girls were allowed inside with hijab, then why are we not allowed?” questioned Abhinav, another student.
School and college authorities in various districts, including at MGM in Udupi, decided to declare leave to avoid such clashes or open displays of religious assertion on Tuesday. Later in the day, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai ordered the closure of all high schools and colleges for three days.
The hijab controversy erupted in January when six Muslim girls at BB Hegde College in Kundapur in Udupi district were denied entry to classrooms after they started wearing headscarves. Karnataka refers to institutions offering the equivalent of classes 11 and 12 as colleges.
The issue has since escalated, with several other high schools seeing protests by girls wearing hijabs, students wearing saffron scarves, and Dalit students wearing blue scarves in solidarity with the hijab-wearing girls. So far, protests have been reported from seven schools in Udupi, including two private schools.
Similar incidents have been reported from at least five other districts.
There was stone-pelting and lathi charge in Bagalkote district on Tuesday while one burqa-clad Muslim girl was heckled by saffron-clad classmates in Mandya district. In Shivamogga, some students were alleged to have removed the Tricolour and hoisted a saffron flag in Government First Grade College in Bapuji Nagar.
However, the school principal Dhananjay BR said that it was a bare post and there was no national flag on it when the saffron flag was hoisted.
Students were seen openly talking about support by organisations such as the Campus Front of India, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagrana Vedike and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP.
“Bajarang Dal and Hindu Jagrana Vedike gave us these items (shawls and headgear),” one student at MGM told HT, asking not to be named.
Student politics in these places have taken religious overtones, turning into a fight to display religious identities.
Some students are said to be protesting on their own but others seem to have mobilised larger support. In MGM college, some students were seen handing out saffron headgear and supplies such as water bottles at the protest outside the campus.
“The entire ploy to bring it to educational institutions is being done actively by RSS, Bajarang Dal and various other organizations. From the last two years, colleges were closed due to covid- 19 and those who go to these colleges are from economically and socially vulnerable communities. On the one hand girls are being denied education because they are exercising their right to choose. On the other hand you children from the same backgrounds who are being radicalized and they are also being denied education,” Maitreyi Krishnan, activist, advocate and a member of All Indian Lawyers for Justice said.