In India, a dispute between students wearing hijab or a saffron scarf

Some hijab-wearing students want to be able to attend classes in junior colleges in the state of Karnataka but other students show their disagreement by wearing saffron scarves.

Students in Karnataka wearing hijab
Students in Karnataka wearing hijab talking to a faculty member (PTI)

In India, six young Muslim students seized the High Court claiming they were barred from studying while wearing hijab in the state of Karnataka. It led to pro and con protests among students and became a political issue.

Karnataka is a state in southwest India home to 64 million people with Bengaluru as the capital.

And February 7 was another day of turmoil in colleges over the restrictions on hijab.

The public pre-university college of the town of Kundapur in Udipi district decided to allow young students to wear hijab on campus.

But they only went into a separate classroom and were not taught any lessons. After several days of protest outside the gates, they were eventually accepted to avoid “crowding outside the gates”, college officials said. The principal ensured the women could attend classes if they removed their hijab, which they refused to do.

In another college, they were sent home.

In Chikmagalur, some students wore blue shawls in support of women wearing hijabs. Blue is a color representing the resistance among Dalits, the population among the lowest cast of India, previously known as ‘untouchable’.

Some principals declared a holiday to avoid troubles between students and preferred waiting for the High Court decision.

Students wearing hijab barred from studying in some Karnataka colleges

The hijab protests began in December when six Muslim students of a government pre-university college in Udupi district alleged that they had been barred from classes wearing the headscarf. They seized the High Court on January 31.

In India, children wear uniforms in both public and private schools. Pre-university colleges usually have dress codes, too. PU students are approximately between 18 and 20 years old.

In reaction to the hijab controversy, hundreds of boys and girls entered in class wearing saffron scarves on their shoulders in Karnataka.

Saffron color is a symbol of courage and sacrifice used during the movement for the independence of India. It was included in India’s national flag after its independence in 1947.

Saffron is the color of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party. It’s the party of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Karnataka government banned hijab from colleges

Saffron is so politically colored that the neologism saffronization refers to right-wing policies implementing a Hindu nationalist agenda and an attempt to glorify Hindus in India.

The issue of hijab quickly made headlines across India and became a matter of political dispute between parties.

For the BJP-ruled government of Karnataka, some “boys and girls have started behaving according to their religion, which hurts the equality and unity” of educational institutions.

But for Siddaramaiah, opposition leader in Karnataka, the Indian constitution allows for practicing any religion and banning hijab-wearing students from entering schools is a “violation of fundamental rights”. Karnataka legislator Kaneez Fatima wears the hijab in the Assembly and suggests students change the color to match a dress code but said they could not leave the hijab out entirely.

Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said on February 3 that no student should wear either hijab or saffron shawl in the school premises, they should follow the rules set by school management committees”.

As such, the government banned clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order” on February 5. State education students have to abide by the uniform as stipulated by the government and students in private institutions need to follow the dress code decided by the management of the school.

But the dispute didn’t end there as on Monday, lessons were still disturbed by the controversy.

The High Court will hear petitions filed by the six women questioning hijab restrictions on February 8.

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