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Karnataka considers uniform dress code as hijab vs saffron scarf flare-up returns to colleges

Bengaluru: Hindu students sporting saffron scarves to protest against Muslim students wearing headscarves have made a comeback in Karnataka colleges. Back to back incidents in communally sensitive Udupi, Mangaluru and Chikmagalur have now pushed the government to consider a uniform dress code for all students.

At least three colleges in Karnataka have witnessed protests about being dressed in a certain way over the last one week. The latest one was in Pompei College in Mangaluru Thursday, when the RSS affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) backed students, sporting saffron scarves, protested. 

“If Muslim girl students are allowed to wear hijabs (headscarves), then we too will wear saffron scarves,” a girl student participating in the protest said. “If they remove their headscarf then we will remove the saffron scarves too,” a male student added. 

He added that their protest had the backing of organisations like the ABVP, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and the Bajrang Dal.

“The protests are taking place at the individual level and we as an organisation aren’t initiating it. Our stand is that all students must adhere to the dress code prescribed by the college. Students protesting against a discriminatory dress code could be ABVP members, but it’s not an organisational effort,” Prateek Mali, secretary, ABVP, told ThePrint.

Also read: Karnataka: College in a bind as students sport saffron scarves protesting hijab inside classroom

Complaint against ‘discrimination’

Barely a week ago, six Muslim students of Udupi Women’s PU College approached the Udupi district commissioner, alleging discriminatory behaviour by college authorities. In their two-page complaint, the girls, led by their families and Muslim organisations, alleged that the principal of their college wasn’t allowing them to wear hijabs in the classroom. The PU College has a uniform and a dress code for students. 

“We are being discriminated against and not being allowed inside the classroom since we began wearing the hijab, which is an integral part of our religious practice,” the complaint said. 

Speaking to the media on 30 December, PU College principal Rudra Gowda had insisted that while students were free to wear hijabs in the college premises, it wasn’t allowed inside classrooms. “The rule is being followed to ensure uniformity in classrooms,” news agency PTI quoted him as saying.

The district administration had to intervene and resolve the matter. The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Campus Front of India (CFI) — both affiliates of the Islamic organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) — had threatened protests if the six students were not allowed to attend classes.

‘There were no violations’

Hindu students of the Government First Grade College in Koppa, Chikmagalur, which also has an uniform and a dress code, staged a sit-in protest sporting saffron scarves Monday. Their demand was also to allow them to wear saffron scarves if Muslim girl students were allowed to wear hijabs. 

Prof Anantha, the principal of the college, has called for a parents-teachers meeting on 10 January to put an end to this flare-up. 

Meanwhile, students have been allowed to wear “whatever they want”, instead of their uniforms. 

“Three years ago, there was a similar incident and we convened a parents-teachers meeting, where it was decided that Muslim girls will be allowed to wear headscarves without tucking it and securing it with a pin. Suddenly, a set of students alleged that Muslim girl students were violating the rules. I went on an inspection and found that there were no violations. Despite that, students have continued to protest,” the principal told reporters Monday.

Vinay Shivapura, a second year B.Com student at the Government First Grade College in Koppa, Chikmagalur, told ThePrint that he along with other students have continued to wear saffron scarves to classrooms. 

“We will continue wearing saffron scarves until Muslim students stop wearing hijabs. Let them also come to classes like other students, in a set dress code,” Vinay said. When asked about Principal’s statement that Muslim students haven’t violated any rules, Vinay — an ABVP member — rejected it. “Those rules were formed before our time. Now there is a need to enforce uniform dress code,” he said.

After the Chikmagalur incident came Thursday’s protest by saffron scarves-clad students in Mangaluru.

Government colleges in Karnataka are allowed to frame their own dress codes for students. 

‘Students violated dress code’

Karnataka’s minister for Primary and Secondary Education B.C. Nagesh told ThePrint that the Udupi college incident was the trigger for the spate of protests by college students. 

“There are hundreds of girls studying in that college and only these six students have created trouble by deliberately violating the dress code,” Nagesh said, adding that the six students had insisted on wearing their hijabs in class, thereby violating the dress code of that particular college.

The minister, who is currently being treated for Covid-19, said he had asked the Department of Public Instruction to file a report on the Udupi Women’s PUC college controversy. “After the report, we will consider what action to take. There is a need to have a uniform dress code for all students,” he said.

Communal flare-ups over ways of dressing in colleges is not new to Karnataka. Coastal districts of Mangaluru and Udupi have over the years seen a communal divide among students over what they wear. 

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi) 

Also read: ABVP forces Karnataka college lecturer to kneel & apologise for ‘anti-national’ FB post

Source: The Print

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