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Hijab Battle In Southern India Leads To Tensions

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Hijab Battle In Southern India Leads To Tensions

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The issue of young women wearing hijabs in schools has become a controversial and heated topic in the Indian state of Rajasthan following a similar battle in the southern state of Karnataka.

it was back on Jan. 27 when Balmukund Acaharya, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of the Legislative Assembly in the city of Jaipur, capital of India’s northern desert state of Rajasthan, raised an objection to girls donning hijabs in government-run schools.

“My daughter and some of her Muslim friends were asked to chant Hindu slogan of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ [‘Hail Lord Ram’] by a lawmaker of the ruling party at a school program which he was attending as the chief guest,” said Tasleem Khan, the father of a Muslim girl studying at a school in Jaipur. “He also made remarks about hijabs and asked school authorities to prohibit girls from wearing it in schools.”

READ: India’s Muslims Gather In The Thousands To Break Daily Ramadan Fast

Khan said his daughter is not ready to compromise on wearing the hijab and would rather discontinue her studies than abandon a part of her faith.

“My daughter said that for her hijab is a means of expressing her faith and dedication to her religious beliefs. It also serves as a demonstration of respect for the principles and customs of Islam,” he added.

He recently participated in a protest in Jaipur, where a large number of female Muslim students assembled — along with their family members — to oppose a call for a ban on hijab given by Acharya. Hijab bans in Hindu-majority India are nothing new. However, such edicts have intensified recently under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, who adhere to Hindu nationalism and have focused on limiting the rights of religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

The annual function of “Government Girls Higher Secondary School Gangapol,” located in the Muslim-majority Subhash Nagar locality of Jaipur, was celebrated on Jan. 27. Acharya, who attended the program as a guest, asked the school’s principal and other staff members why some female students had come to the school wearing hijabs. Expressing his displeasure, the MLA even talked about banning the headscarf. He asked if there were two types of dress codes in the school.

In a video that surfaced afterwards, Acharya could be seen urging school authorities to prohibit the wearing of hijabs by students in a school that included both Hindu and Muslim children.

In another video, he is seen on the stage, telling the students to chant “Jai Shri Ram” (which translates to “Glory to Lord Ram” or “Victory to Lord Ram”). The proclamation has been used by Hindus as a symbol of adhering to Hindu faith, but has also become a veiled threat to those who question the dominance of Hinduism. The state of Rajasthan is currently ruled by the BJP.

Muslim students protest with family members

Two days after the Jan. 29 incident, Muslim students, along with their families and others across the community, protested against Acharya. The female students surrounded a local police station in search of an apology.

“We go to school to focus on our studies, and that’s what we’ll do,” one of the protesting students said. “What does the lawmaker or the government have to do with our attire? We come to school in our school dress. We only wear a head scarf without abandoning the dress. Our protest will continue until Acharya issues an apology. He is singling out Muslims. Today, he seeks to ban hijab in school; tomorrow, he will try to stop us from wearing [the] hijab altogether. It is unfair. Wearing hijab is our basic right.”

Rafiq Khan, a leader of the Opposition Congress, joined in the protest. He slammed Acharya and sought action against him for engaging in politics of hatred.

The school’s principal, Ruby Chishti, declined to comment on the issue, but confirmed that Acharya had objected to some students wearing hijab during the programme.

Students have to follow dress code

Following the incident, the State Education Minister Madan Dilawar asked the Education Department to prepare a report on the status of a hijab ban in other states, as well as what effect it is likely to have in Rajasthan.

Dilawar added: “Uniforms have been prescribed by the state government in all government as well as private schools. Students have to follow the dress code prescribed by that school and no other dress will be permitted. Religious conversion will not be permitted in any government or private school in Rajasthan.”

However, the Rajasthan Children Commission does not support a ban on hijabs in classrooms. The organization’s chairperson, Sangeeta Beniwal, said, “The girls can wear it if they feel safe and secure in hijab.”

Rajasthan’s Cabinet Minister Kirodi Lal Meena said he supports a ban on hijabs and burqa (a long, loose garment covering the whole body worn by Muslim women).

“There are many Muslim countries where hijab is banned, so why is it necessary to wear hijab in India,” Meena said. “Here too, like other countries, burqa and hijab should be banned.”

The cabinet minister added that there should be a uniform dress code in all Indian schools.

Hijab fights spreads to other places

The hijab fight is not limited to Jaipur and is spreading to other places. A similar situation arose in a school located in Jodhpur.

On Feb. 17, female students at a government school in Jodhpur came in wearing hijabs. The controversy flared up at Government Higher Secondary School in Pipar City, situated in the rural parts of the Jodhpur district. The students had earlier been told not to wear the hijab in classrooms. The defiant students, accompanied by their parents, said they would continue wearing it to school.

Earlier, there was also a demand to ban hijabs in educational institutions in Karnataka. The hijab controversy first erupted in the southern state in January 2022, when some students of a pre-university school were banned from attending classes wearing hijabs. A month later, the BJP-dominated state government at the time imposed a ban on hijab in schools and colleges. As a result, there was uproar over this decision across India.

After the BJP lost local elections last year, lawmakers made a change. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah withdrew the ban, saying, “Wearing clothes is a personal matter of any person; [girls] can wear clothes as per her choice.”



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