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With the Hijab ban in Karnataka, BJP continues its Hindutva mission

Ground Report: Indian Muslims are living on the margins of "democracy"

Five states in India are set to go for assembly elections on February 14, including Uttar Pradesh, India's largest state. The "prince" of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Yogi Adityanath, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are going all out with their rightist agenda to ensure victory for the saffron party.

The demand for banning Hijab in the educational institutions in Karnataka is only one of the several attempts by the extremist right-wing the country has witnessed over the last few years. The polarisation against Indian Muslims has seen an unprecedented upward trend under the regime of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

From the lynching of Muslims merely on suspicion of consuming and transporting beef to blaming the Tablighi Jamat for the spread of COVID-19, the largest democracy in the world has seen it all. Despite the international media putting its finger on the pulse, the local media has widely been hand-in-glove with the Hindutva agenda and their crusade against the minorities. Muslims and Christians, who are also a minority in the country, have come under the hammer of fringe right-wing over their alleged activities of forced conversions. Earlier last year, Karnataka passed the anti-conversion bill that was also argued to be unconstitutional by the left.

Putting the framework of the Indian Constitution in question, in the last week of December last year, six students at the Government Pre-University College of Udupi in Coastal Karnataka were barred from entering the college premises by their principal for wearing Hijab. The move was prompted by protests and objections from the right-wing student organisations who claimed the Hijab-wearing students were violating the uniform code by wearing ''religious outfit'' to the college.



Several national and international Human Rights activists, including Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousufzai, pointed out this attempt to marginalise Muslims in the state, but the government chose to remain silent. During their media interactions, leaders and ministers from the state government went on record, openly calling for Muslims to migrate to Pakistan if they wished to practice their faith.


Muslim students claim the ban violates Articles 15 and 25 that forbids discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, and guarantees the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion to all citizens, respectively. But, Karnataka BJP Chief Nalin Kumar said wearing Hijab to schools and colleges is "Talibanisation of Education System".

"There is no scope for such things (wearing Hijab in classrooms). Our government will take stringent action. People have to follow the rules and regulations of the school. We will not allow Talibanisation (of the education system)," he told reporters here.

Another Karnataka Minister, Sunil Kumar, tried to take the row into the party's stride to woo Hindu voters, adding that Congress will make Hijab compulsory for Hindus if it comes into power. Opposition leaders in the state have tried to stand in solidarity with the Muslim students but perhaps not too loudly to not disappoint their Hindu voters. Their protests have largely remained mild.

In less than a month, the state was reeling under the chaos, with similar protests and demands coming in from various educational institutions across the state. Members of right-wing organisations with affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) vandalise campuses in protests. In another district of the state, Shivamogga, students hoisted the Saffron flag on a tri-colour flag post on one of the college campuses. Local police had to resort to Lathi Charge to disperse the violent right-wing groups, and in other parts of the state, tear gas was fired to control the angry-student mob.


In the first week of February, a video surfaced on the internet wherein a Burqa-clad Muslim student Muskaan Khan was heckled by hundreds of Hindutva goons chanting ''Jai Shri Ram'' (Hindu war cry). Khan put up a fight alone against the angry mobs and retaliated with the chants of "Allahu Akbar".

Despite all this, the local police have not arrested anyone from the mobs that ran ruckus on campuses. But this has not pushed the Muslim students on backfoot. Instead, the students upped their resistance in light of the fiasco. Khan, in an interview, recently said, "I am feeling courageous to know that because of me, a lot of Muslim girls have started standing up for themselves. I am very happy because everyone is supporting me."

Looking at how events turned up, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai declared a three-day holiday to all high schools and colleges to avoid a law and order crisis. The students who were barred from the campuses knocked on the doors of the High Court for it to intervene and allow them to attend classes.


After adjourning several hearings of the matter, the Court passed an interim order on Friday, February 11. The Court restrained all the students from wearing saffron shawls, scarves, Hijab and any religious flag within the classroom.

"We request the State Government and all other stakeholders to reopen the educational institutions and allow the students to return to the classes at the earliest. Pending consideration of all these petitions, we restrain all the students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls (Bhagwa), scarfs, Hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom, until further orders," the full bench of the Karnataka High Court comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S Dixit and Justice J M Khazi said in their order, made available on Friday.

While the Karnataka High Court has restrained organisations from staging protests and agitations in the state, the row has hit other parts of the country with students and Muslim organisations staging pro-Hijab protests in the national capital, among other states. On Friday, while the Court passed an interim order, several student activists, including the Jawaharlal National University (JNU) Student Union President Aishe Ghosh, were detained. They were reportedly planning to protest in front of Karnataka Bhawan against the Hijab ban.


On the other hand, the Supreme Court has refused to entertain a plea challenging the Karnataka High Court order and added it would take up pleas at an appropriate time. 

All eyes will now be on Karnataka High Court once again when it hears the case on February 14.


Images have been supplied by the author.

About the author

Ismail Zaorez is a journalist based in the South Indian state of Karnataka. He regularly covers stories at the intersection of politics, culture and development. He is currently a senior sub-editor for Vartha Bharati and writes for The Wire and other independent news portals. Zaorez can be reached on his Instagram handle here, and Twitter handle here.