India headscarf row intensifies after Muslim students barred from entering college

A pre-university college imposed ban on hijab in December, saying it breached rules against wearing religious symbols

Six students at the Government Women Pre-University College in Udupi district, Karnataka, about 400 kilometres from Bangalore, have been barred from attending classes for wearing the hijab. EPA
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A college in India’s southern Karnataka state denied entry to a group of Muslim students on Tuesday over their refusal to remove their headscarves after a new policy stirred up a legal row.

Six students protested outside the Government Women Pre-University College in Udupi city on World Hijab Day to assert their “fundamental rights”, they said.

The pre-university had imposed a ban on the hijab in December, saying it breached rules against wearing religious symbols.

The measure led to an outcry and protests by students who demanded the institution roll back the order as it infringes on religious rights.

“[This] is a government college where we pay tax. There is no need to intervene. Our legal struggle cannot be crushed by threats,” Aliya Asadi, one of the students protesting the ban, said in a tweet on Monday.

But the government-run college doubled down on the ban before World Hijab Day and barred students wearing headscarves from entering when the campus reopened following the easing of pandemic-related restrictions.

One student has already registered a case with the Karnataka High Court over the ban.

The petitioner claims the ban on the headscarf is unconstitutional as Indian secular law guarantees full rights to practice one's religion. She also asked the court to protect the rights of those who want to wear hijab as a fundamental practice of religious belief.

The controversy has put a spotlight on recently reported discriminatory acts perpetrated against religious minorities, including Christians, in the southern state, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Last year, the state government tabled a bill to outlaw religious conversions, which the right-wing party said would tackle the unfounded conspiracy theory that says Muslims are converting Hindu women to Islam through marriage.

The proposed legislation came amid a string of attacks on churches over allegations that Christians were converting Hindus.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 5:48 PM