Sikh student asked to remove turban amid hijab row in India's Karnataka state

Incident at Mount Carmel College in Bengaluru sparked outrage

An Indian Sikh student joins Muslim girls in a protest against Karnataka's hijab ban, in New Delhi, India, this month. AP
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A Sikh student has been ordered to remove her turban in Karnataka state in the latest row over religious symbols in India's educational institutions.

Amiteshwar Kaur, 17, was asked to remove the religious headgear at the pre-university Mount Carmel College in state capital Bengaluru.

The incident sparked outrage and anger online amid India's hijab row, which is continuing.

The headgear, called a dastaar, is one of the five religious symbols carried by baptised Sikhs on their bodies at all times. Being asked to remove it is considered an insult to the Sikh religion.

Ms Kaur’s father Gurcharan Singh, 53, said the college authorities first wrote to him in an email last week demanding that his daughter stop wearing the turban in accordance with the Karnataka High Court’s interim order banning the wearing of religious symbols in classrooms.

When Ms Kaur persisted in wearing the turban, Mr Singh said the college repeated its demand on Wednesday. He then gathered community support against the college order.

“It is a very painful incident. It is very unfortunate that such incidents or issues are being taken up in our modern society,” Mr Singh told The National.

“The issues are being discussed in the High Court but I am unable to understand — so far these issues were not there but all of a sudden these are discussed. What was the need?”

The temporary court ban issued in early February came after several Muslim female students challenged rules imposed by some schools and colleges against wearing the hijab — a traditional Muslim headscarf — in classrooms.

The court also barred students from wearing other symbols of religious affiliation, including the saffron scarves often worn by supporters of Hindu right-wing groups.

Mr Singh, an IT professional, informed the school authorities that his daughter would not remove her turban in the classroom as the court order does not talk about “Sikh turbans”.

Sikhs, a religious minority, are allowed to wear turbans and even carry small daggers — known as a kirpan — under India’s secular constitution that allows all communities to follow their religious practices.

Mr Singh is seeking legal help so that Sikh students are not forced to remove their turbans inside classrooms.

“We are taking preventive measures and trying to reach out to the government to ensure such incidents are not repeated,” Mr Singh said.

Muslim students have said the hijab ban breaches their constitutional rights to practise their religious beliefs. The court has held daily hearings.

The controversy over the hijab erupted in late December when six Muslim students at the state-run Women's Pre-University college in Udupi were allegedly stopped from entering class after they were deemed to have breached the rules banning headscarves from class.

The students protested outside their classroom for three days, resulting in a row that spilled over to other colleges. By the first week of January, the row had turned into a full-blown nationwide controversy, with supporters and opponents of the ban hitting streets across the country.

Several teachers across the state have also been asked to remove the hijab and burqa at work, prompting one teacher to quit her job last week.

The court clarified on Wednesday that the ban on religious dress applies to students in government-run colleges — and not teachers.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 9:01 AM
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