The southern Indian state of Karnataka is witnessing a deepening hijab row, with the Indian media reporting a second incident in recent weeks of Muslim students being denied entry to their educational institution for wearing headscarves.
According to Hindustan Times, 27 students were barred from entering a government-run pre-university college — which is equivalent to a high school — on Thursday for wearing hijabs in the coastal town of Kundapur in Karnataka's Udupi district.
A video of the incident was widely shared on social media.
The report said the decision not to allow entry to students wearing hijabs was taken after over 100 students donned saffron shawls — the colour is seen as a Hindu symbol — and protested against Muslim female students wearing hijabs at Bhandarkars’ College on Wednesday.
"When the principal asked the students to remove their hijab and attend classes, an argument ensued with the students pointing out that there is no government order banning the hijab in Kundapur government colleges," it added.
The report quoted the college principal, Ramakrishna, as saying that he was following the directives of the college development committee president and lawmaker from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Halady Srinivas Shetty. The principal said Shetty had directed him not to allow any sort of additional attire other than the specified uniform.
Separately, Shetty told The Hindu that he had held a meeting with students' parents and asked them to make their children comply with the existing dress code — i.e. is wearing uniform — till a decision was taken in this regard by the relevant government department.
He said some female students had been attending classes at the college while wearing hijabs for the past few days. He added that other students had objections over it and they had sought action.
“As the situation was getting tense, I called a meeting of parents on Wednesday when a number of boys were seen in the college with shawls,” the lawmaker said.
Moreover, he told The Hindu that he also heard out parents of students who came to class wearing hijab.
“I asked them to practice their religion in their houses and not drag it to the classroom. I made it clear that there cannot be hijab or saffron shawls in the classroom and students have to wear uniform that has been prescribed,” he said.
The incident in Kundapur is the fifth incident of religious intolerance in educational institutions since December 28 last year, according to Hindustan Times.
On December 28, 2021, six Muslim students were denied entry to Government Women's PU college in Karnataka for wearing hijab.
Between then and the latest incident in Bhandarkars' College, protests have been held in two other colleges against hijabs. In one school, the principal was suspended after students allegedly offered Friday prayers in school, the report said.
It added that similar incidents of students being denied entry for wearing headscarves were reported from other educational institutions in Karnataka as well.
Meanwhile, the six students who were initially denied entry to their college for donning headscarves have been protesting for weeks and five of them have filed a petition in the high court, seeking a declaration that they have the right to wear hijab while attending classes.
Another student has separately filed a similar plea, according to Times of India, which reported that the court had fixed the petitions for February 8.
Both petitions accuse the college authorities and others of "shaming” students in hijab by invoking their religious identity, the report said, adding that the petitioners argue that hijab is part of religious and social culture, and wearing it does not come in the way of college discipline and education.
Meanwhile, Nagesh BC, the state's education minister, has backed college authorities who say both saffron scarves and headscarves should be banned on campuses.
He told BBC Hindi that the government would soon outline its stand before the Karnataka High Court, which will hear the two petitions next week.