Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s education department has made hijab compulsory for female students and teachers in co-education institutions, it emerged on Monday.

A circular, available with Dawn.com, was issued on February 24, with the signatures of a deputy director of AJK’s Directorate General of Elementary and Secondary Education (Males), which said that “it has been observed that the female students/teachers are not made to wear hijab in institutions where co-education is practised. Therefore, under the passed-on instructions, female students/teachers should be strictly bound to wear hijab.”

The circular warned that in case the instructions were violated, disciplinary proceedings shall be initiated “against the heads of the institutions concerned”.

The circular was copied to all three divisional directors and all 10 district education officers on the male side for endorsement as per rules, who had then forwarded the same to the educational institutions in their jurisdiction between March 2 and March 4.

When contacted by Dawn.com, Deevan Ali Khan Chughtai, the AJK minister for elementary and secondary education, confirmed the circular and elaborated on the reasons behind it.

“We have done it exactly in observance of the injunctions of God and His Messenger (peace be upon him) […] The women have been ordained to wear veils and men have been ordained to lower their gaze,” he said.

The minister maintained that since in some rural areas, the government could not establish separate high and higher secondary schools for girls, mainly due to resource constraints and also due to the small number of girl students, they would therefore be enrolled in educational institutions for boys to study under a co-education system.

“However, following some complaints by parents, we decided to enforce a dress code for teachers and hijab for female students and teachers,” he added.

Chughtai said initially, the teachers across the state would wear gowns for their identification and in the second stage, they would also have to wear uniforms.

“As far as female students and female teachers in co-ed institutions are concerned, the hijab has been made part of their uniform,” the AJK minister said.

In response to a question, he said that “ideally hijab should also be enforced in universities” but since the students in varsities are “mature enough as compared to the adolescent high schoolers”, it had been enforced in high schools and higher secondary schools.

“It’s not a forced decision. Rather we have taken it in consultation with parents and teachers. Everyone has accepted it because our society has a visible leaning towards religion,” Chughtai maintained.

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