‘Hijab is our right’ echoed the voices of eight girls from Udupi, Karnataka who were not allowed to enter their college premises because of their religious headwear not being a part of the school uniform in December 2021. It has quickly escalated to become one of the most debated topics in recent times. Hijab is a scarf that protects one’s head, the neck and does not cover the face. Its connotation presented in the media is subjected to varying interpretations.
The girls attend government-run Pre-University College in Udupi. On 25th January 2022 Karnataka Government had set up a committee to understand the situation and requested the students to adhere to the uniform rules laid down by the college. BJP MLA, Raghupathi Bhat had reported that the girls had been requested to continue their classes and examinations via the online mode till the situation resolved. According to the Karnataka Educational Act of 2013 and 2018, the then Congress led government had allowed schools/colleges to enforce uniforms on their students. Moreover, the former Chief Minister of the state and the current leader of the opposition in the Karnataka Assembly, Mr. Siddaramaiah (INC) questioned the government’s action on the issue at a press conference.
His complete statement is stated below:
“Denying the girls' entry inside the college, that too a government college is a violation of their fundamental and constitutional rights. The principal of the college was closing the gates on the girls crying…it is inhuman”
Those in authority and students are largely divided on this issue. While some will call it a constitutional right, another train of thought will express that religious clothing might disturb the integrity of educational institutes. The developments were showing signs of communal tensions in the district. Several male students of R. N Shetty college were seen wearing saffron scarves and insisted that they will continue to wear it if the girls were allowed to wear hijab. The girls have repeated their sentiments to various media portals by saying ‘Hijab is our fundamental and constitutional right’. One of the girls had presented her petition to the High court on 31st January 2022. In the petition, the lawyers quoted article 14 and 25 of the Indian Constitution along with many verses from the Holy Quran. The Indian Constitution allows individuals the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion barring the state’s interference and allowing it only in the matters in which issues relating to morality, public order and health are concerned. In this case, the girls had been not only denied education but also forced out of their college and as stated in the plea, the ordeal ‘would create stigma amongst the petitioner’s fellow college mates’. On 6th February, the government of Karnataka announced "clothes which disturb equality, integrity and public law should not be worn". The verdict said that the students have to wear the dress code chosen by the college authorities in the classrooms. The students, however, will be permitted to wear clothing of their choice while coming to the college. The purpose of the verdict is 'to cultivate a scientific and secular outlook through education'.
Education is a fundamental right for all irrespective of their caste or creed. Moreover, it should never be politicized to fulfil personal gains. It is a failure on the part of the college authorities to not be able to separate their personal dogmas from the realm of educational institutes and their operations.
1. Prajwal Bhat, The News Minute, It is our right to wear Hijab, don’t bar us from classes: Udupi students speak up, 19th January 2022, https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/its-our-right-wear-hijab-dont-bar-us-class-udupi-students-speak-160020
2. Mustafa Plumber, Live Law, Wearing Hijab is a constitutional right under the article 14 and 25, educational institutes can’t restrict it: Student move to Karnataka high court, 31st January 2022 https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/karnataka-high-court-muslim-girl-student-hijab-fundamental-right-muslims-190780
3. Special Correspondent, The Hindu, Decision on dress code in govt college soon: CM, 4th February 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/decision-on-dress-code-in-govt-pu-colleges-soon-cm/article38378963.ece
4. Express News Service, The Indian Express, Congress speaks out on Udupi hijab row: Girls’ rights being violated, 5th February 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/cong-speaks-out-on-udupi-hijab-row-girls-rights-being-violated-7757780/