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Hijab Ban in Karnataka, India prevents Muslim girls from continuing their education

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada

Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

In Karnataka, India, Muslim girls are being prevented from wearing the hijab while attending their college classes. In a case which has been developing since December, several colleges have asked students wearing their headscarves to remove them, or they would not be allowed to enter.

This has led to several protests and solidarity by people around the world, demanding that Muslim girls are granted their right to wear the hijab in Indian colleges.

While protesting in India, Muslim girls were also heckled by hundreds of young men and women wearing saffron scarves symbolizing right-wing Hindu nationalist groups. Some of these videos have gone viral, depicting the divisive circumstances in the region and the struggles of Muslim women trying to fight for their right to wear their hijabs.

Several petitions have been filed by students to the High Court, to challenge rules which ban the Muslim headscarf, arguing that India’s constitution guaranteed them their right to wear headscarves. While the case was being heard, the court passed an interim order to remove all religious symbols from classrooms, which led several Muslim women to skip their classes and exams while the case was being heard. However, the High Court has ruled that the hijab is not essential to Islam, and has also upheld the state government order that had banned headscarves in classrooms.

The three-judge bench argued that allowing Muslim women to wear the hijab would hinder their “emancipation” and go against the Indian constitution’s spirit of “positive secularism.” There are many reasons why this verdict is problematic. For one, the courts are applying their own, wrongful interpretations of Islam to oppress Muslim women and to control what they wear, under the guise of “emancipating” them, a common argument used by countries evoking hijab bans globally. What’s also notable here, is that the state of Karnataka plans to introduce the Gita, a Hindu scripture, into school curriculums, something that opposition parties have noted is unnecessary because people should have a right to know about all religions. Both of these policies seem contradictory - with one aiming to uphold positive secularism while another seems to invoke Hindu religious supremacy. This demonstrates, as many protestors and critics have argued, another case whereby Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is attempting to marginalize Muslims, and not about emancipating Muslim women or upholding secularism at all.

India must do better to protect all minorities, and stop oppressive policies that police what women wear. Women have the right to wear the hijab, and no one should be able to take that away from them through unjust laws and discriminatory policies.


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