Dress code policy ruins student life

Over the past week, the notion of college has changed for Shanmukha (name changed) and his friends. What was once a place of learning has become a divided house.

He says that of the 105 students in his class, 50 started wearing saffron stoles from February 4, protesting against Muslim female students wearing the hijab. On February 7, the five Muslim classmates (male and female) stopped going to university. Neutral female students were also offered stoles and invited to join the march against the hijab.

“I accepted the stole because I didn’t want to hurt my friends, but I slipped it into the bag and went straight to class because wearing it would be against the rights of my Muslim friends,” says this final year undergraduate student at Mandya Government College.

But what baffles Shanmukha is the sudden transformation of his friends, who have become aggressive activists overnight. “During all these years, we didn’t even demand the improvement of the college’s infrastructure, forget the campaigns,” he says.

Like other educational institutions in Karnataka, this college has seen a sudden burst of “student activism” over the past ten days around the hijab issue.

Read more: US says hijab ban violates religious freedom

Shanmukha’s classmate, Rajesh (name changed), who wore the saffron dress, justifies his action: “Our classmates had never worn the hijab before. They only started after the Udupi incident and I think it affects the harmony at the university.

It refers to the six female students at Government Women’s PU College in Udupi, who have been struggling to attend hijab-wearing classes since last December.

“Most Muslim women will remain illiterate if the court or the government mandates the removal of the hijab in classrooms,” says AH Almas, a science student and one of six girls protesting from Udupi.

“We are asked to choose between faith and studies. When the constitution allows us to practice both, why are we told to choose one?” she asked.

More than a month after the Udupi incident, on February 2, Government PU College in Kundapur witnessed a group of students wearing saffron stoles opposing Muslim students wearing hijab in the name of competing rights.

Within a week, several colleges in the state saw Hindu students clash with their hijab-wearing Muslim college mates while sporting saffron stoles.

“There has been a build-up of what started in Udupi, where a Muslim party is rising in prominence in response to communal tension propagated by right-wing politics. The Udupi incident is driven by local politics. Those who sensed an electoral opportunity perpetuated it. Now it has become a religious symbol rather than a political symbol,” says A Narayana, a professor at Azim Premji University.

“It is hard to see a pattern in its spread to other places, but its escalation was expected given the aggressive Hindutva politics that the ruling BJP in Karnataka is increasingly relying on,” says -he.

Also Read: Hijab row: Decision on reopening of PUs and university colleges likely on Feb 14, says Karnataka minister

Reports of saffron stoles distributed in different colleges only confirm this view. For example, reports say leaders of a Hindu fringe group are responsible for the protest at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College in Udupi, where saffron petas were used to protest the hijab.

Opposition parties alleged that in Shivamogga and Sagara, a minister’s son distributed stoles to students.

Many students who wore the stoles have no idea of ​​their fight or the outcome of these protests.

The Campus Front of India (CFI), the student organization of the Social Democratic Party of India, has spoken out to provide legal and moral support to the girls protesting in Udupi. “We are a student body and what’s wrong with supporting students?” asks CFI State Chairman Athaulla Punjalkatte. “Students wearing saffron stoles to protest hijab was a game played by pro-BJP outfits to mislead the court and build a false narrative,” he says.

The campaign against Muslim girls wearing the hijab took a brutal turn on February 8 in Shivamogga, Bagalkot and Mandya. Saffron-clad male students heckled a hijab-wearing student at the PES Diploma University in Mandya, while clashes in the other two districts turned violent. On February 9, the state government announced vacations for middle schools and classes 9 and 10.

The first victims of the dress code row and the hate campaign are the government and the aided colleges.

The principal of a college where the protest took place is in despair when he says they are forced to tally the number of students from each community after the incident.

Some colleges have taken certain measures. “The incident was a brutal shock to us. Our institution is truly democratic and we cannot allow such incidents to occur at any cost. The first step we took was to counsel 15-20 students who had been instigated by foreigners,” says KS Vijay Anand, President of PES Degree College.

young minds

DH spoke to 30 students from different communities in Mandya, including those in colleges who witnessed this community politics – which is largely foreign to the district.

While a majority of them are confused and just want to go back to normal university life no matter who wears what, some Hindu students – girls and boys – have a new resentment for the hijab.

Muslim students – women and men – say they are unable to understand the situation and do not know how to react to developments.

Ms. Veena, Principal of Sahyadri Commerce College & Management, Shivamogga is of the view that college students are being influenced by the protests that have erupted in Udupi district against hijab.

Most of the students who protested were freshmen and they demanded permission to wear saffron stoles in classrooms as Muslim girls are allowed to attend classes wearing the hijab.

“I tried to convince them that the government had issued an order prohibiting the two. Later, I also asked Muslim girls not to wear burqas or hijabs in classrooms. But they were determined to wear the hijab citing it was their basic right. One of the parents of a Muslim student came to college and promised that his children would abide by the college rule,” she said.

Muslim female students have worn the hijab in classrooms for several years. There was no objection then, she said.

Read more: Shabana Azmi punches holes in Kangana Ranaut’s hijab argument

Murthy Bheemarao, state coordinator of Bharathiya Vidyarthi Sangha, argues that the scale of protests seen in the state against the hijab cannot be organized by students alone.

“It certainly has more political support. What is unfortunate is that students are divided in the name of religion. Will they be able to return to the classrooms and face their friends after this confrontation? he asks.

Bengaluru lawyer Vinay Sreenivasa says, “There are several issues here; the first being a certain type of majoritarianism. It will have a profound impact. Previously, they were just students and classmates. Now they will begin to see through a common lens. The government must answer why it allowed the situation to reach this stage.

Yashpal Suvarna, Vice President of Government Women’s PU College, Udupi, argues that wearing the hijab is not a religious practice. “Muslim men force Muslim women to wear it. Muslim women want to be free like women from other communities but they are caged with many restrictions. Many educated Muslims support the BJP as they are happy with the Centre’s stance against triple talaq,” he says.

Suvarna, who is considering a BJP ticket from neighboring Kaup in the upcoming assembly elections, says he has never tried to make it a political issue. Some communal forces, including CFI, have made it a big problem. “It’s done to paint India as anti-Muslim and get international funding for their activities,” he says.

Political analyst Muzzaffar Assadi says the issue has now attracted international attention. “We should read it from an international perspective. This will serve to project India as a country where the rights of women and minorities are hampered,” he says.

political awareness

The reactionary protests colored the lives of these students. Without clarity or a solid democratic foundation, the youth wings of major political parties only serve to entice students to serve a larger political agenda.

“It makes us hollow ideologically, because there is no awareness of democratic organization, diversity and struggles for a just society. Without adequate sensitization and dissemination of knowledge, we fail to understand the importance of talks and speeches, and get provoked by the slightest trigger,” says Rudresh Mourya, a student from Bangalore University associated with the Federation students from India.

The current protests have shown the volatile nature of student engagement in politics. Social media only made the situation worse. “Parties that have succeeded in politics by creating a sense of insecurity and a narrative of injustice are now using this strategy to politicize educational institutions. Society as a whole has failed to create constitutional and political awareness in young minds,” says A Narayana.

While parents of Muslim students hope that the current situation will not keep girls away from schools, parents of Hindu students are perplexed by the sudden aggressiveness of their children and hope that it will not have adverse effects on their future.

As the controversy continues with politics at its heart, the students await judgment from the court. And their parents feel the need for a social solution.

(With contributions from Akram Mohammad and Shruthi HM Sastry in Bengaluru)