The Karnataka hijab row is getting increasingly intense, as yet another college in the state is in news for denying entry to Muslim girls wearing a headscarf. On February 3, Bhandarkars’ College of Kundapur of Udupi district stopped more than a dozen Muslim girls from entering the premises, telling them that they were supposed to come to the classes dressed as per the guidelines of the college and state government’s order. This incident happened just months before their exams.
The barring of hijab-wearing students from the campus came a day after a group of male students had come to Bhandrakars’ College wearing saffron shawls as a mark of protest. The students were protesting against leeway given to Muslim women students that enabled them to wear hijab to college and during their classes. The saffron shawl clad students were reportedly stopped at the entrance. But the next day, the same was done to women in hijab. Soon, a video of several women students pleading with college authorities at the college gate, to be let in for the sake of their education went viral on social media. This incident isn’t the first of its kind though.
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In January this year, Muslim students were stopped from attending classes at a government college, also in Udupi district of Karnataka. The college had directed students to remove their hijabs and burkhas before sitting for their classes and stick to the “dress code”. Students at the college went on a protest after being barred from attending the classes. Over the last month, similar action has been taken by other colleges across the state.
While one can trust the young women of this country to always stand up for their rights, as we have seen with numerous protests and student-led movements that had popped up over the last few years, it is disheartening that they have to do so at the cost of their education. Students shouldn’t have to spend their precious days and months fighting college authorities that value agenda-driven politics more than their right to education.
We live in a country where women have to overcome innumerable odds to attain education at every level. Things only went from bad to worse during the pandemic when numerous girls had to drop out of schools and colleges due to financial and digital constraints. According to data provided by the Education Ministry of India, 320 million students suffered the brunt of the pandemic, with respect to their education, out of which 158 million were female students.
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Not many girls are encouraged to pursue higher education in our country even today, so the last thing they need is yet another hurdle in their struggle, that too created by the very educational institute that is responsible for their studies. When will educational institutes understand that their primary duty is to provide education to every student enrolled with them at all costs?
It is not their job to peddle agenda or to strong-arm women students into giving up on their dressing choices. To wear or not wear hijab, dupatta, ghoonghat, burqa, jeans or any other kind of clothing is something every woman has the right to decide for herself. What a woman wears is not the business of her fellow students, lecturers any other so-called stakeholders in society. Barring a student for wearing hijab is a form of dress policing that is also an outright violation of a woman’s consent because she is being forced to give up wearing a garment against her free will.
The saddest part is that something so basic is lost on our educators who are busy appeasing political strongmen, instead of protecting wards from hatred, bigotry and outright misogyny.
The views expressed are the author’s own.