Saturday, June 3, 2023

Heading for Trouble

A college in Karnataka has got drawn into a row over hijabs and saffron shawls and banned both of them on the campus despite the Constitution allowing such a dress code.

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A government college in Balagadi village in Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru district has banned hijabs and saffron scarves on the campus. On January 12, 2022, in a meeting between the students, parents and the management, it was decided that Muslim girl students would not wear the hijab and Hindu students would also not be allowed to wear saffron shawls along with their dress.

The meeting was attended by leaders of both the communities (representatives of the mosque committee and BJP leaders), old students, members of the governing council, the joint director’s office, the police department and panchayat representatives. Those who attended the meeting agreed with the college’s decision that only prescribed uniforms would be allowed.

Principal Ananth Murthy reportedly said: “The officials were part of the meeting and it was decided that Hindu students will not sport saffron scarves and Muslim girl students will not wear hijabs but they can wear a shawl to cover their heads. If anyone violates the rule, they would be dismissed from the college.” There are about 850 students in this degree college, of whom a quarter are Muslims. A teacher said that some people were trying to spread hatred.

Local organisations are reportedly supporting the students. A Bajrang Dal leader had reportedly warned the college that Hindus should be allowed to wear saffron shawls if Muslims were allowed to wear headscarves.

The management of the Government Degree College landed in trouble after a section of students came to the college wearing saffron scarves to protest against Muslim girls attending classes allegedly wearing hijabs. When the controversy started, the college ordered Muslim girl students not to wear the hijab. However, the order was later withdrawn. After this, a group of students wearing shawls launched a protest.

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Murthy said the decision was taken in a similar meeting three years ago and so far everyone has followed it. Everything was going smoothly but suddenly some students came to class wearing scarves.

B.Com second year student Vinay Koppa had alleged that Muslim women were coming to college wearing hijabs. The student argued that a similar controversy had arisen in the college three years back and it was decided that no one should come to the college wearing hijab, but for the past few days, some Muslim women were coming to college wearing the hijab. “So, we have decided to come to college wearing saffron scarves,” he reportedly said.

The student also claimed that on his request, the college administration had repeatedly asked Muslim women not to wear the hijab on the campus, but they did not agree.

Syed Sarfaraz Gangavathi, Campus Front of India (Karnataka), state secretary, welcomed the decision of the college authorities and said that the Constitution allows the wearing of hijab or saffron shawls, but it should not be instigated by anyone or be politically motivated.

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Harsha Narayan, former National Secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, reportedly, said that schools and colleges should be kept away from religious practices. “We are ready to join any organisation to keep away religious practices from schools and colleges.”

Recently, some students were allegedly denied entry into a classroom of a government women’s college in Udupi for wearing the hijab. A student from the college reportedly said, “Those of us who were wearing hijabs were prevented from entering the classroom.”

“We were told to bring our parents to college, but when they arrived, school authorities made them wait for some three to four hours,” claimed the student. Another student reportedly said: “Everything was fine before we started wearing the hijab, but now we are being discriminated against in this manner.”

The girls said that they have not marked their attendance for the past few days and fear they might face an attendance shortage. College principal Rudra Gowda reportedly said that students were free to wear hijabs inside the school premises but not in classrooms. “This rule is being followed to ensure uniformity in classrooms.” The students have also complained that they are not being allowed to chat in Urdu, Arabic and Beary languages. They even stood outside the classroom for three days in protest.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party of India, Udupi unit chief, Nazeer Ahmed said that the party will stage a protest if the students are not allowed to attend classes with hijabs. Later, some members of the Islamic Organisation of India, along with the girls who were barred from entering the class, approached District Collector Kurma Rao regarding the incident, stating that their constitutional rights were being violated.

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Abroad too such issues have come to the fore. In July last year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) upheld a 2017 ruling allowing employers to adopt neutrality policies banning religious garb in the workplace. But the decision added conditions. Now employers are required to prove that the neutrality policy they have adopted is essential for business. Before the 2017 decision, banning religious symbols for any reason other than safety was not allowed.

The ECJ case was brought forward by two German female workers, a daycare centre teacher and a cashier, who were asked by their employers not to wear the Muslim headscarf at work. The teacher had worked at the centre for two years before opting to wear the headscarf in early 2016. She wore the scarf to work until mid-October, when she went on maternity leave until May 2018.

Two months before she arrived back at work, the centre adopted a new neutrality policy for its employees, barring them from wearing

“any signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs that are visible to parents, children and third parties in the workplace”.

When she returned, she decided to keep the scarf on. After refusing to remove it, she was suspended. Around the same time, another colleague was asked to remove her cross necklace, according to the ruling.

 —By Adarsh Kumar and India Legal Bureau

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