The adverse effects of the hijab ban in Karnataka, India

Japneet Kaur

Staff Writer

     The Indian state of Karnataka has been under wide global attention after a viral video of a 19-year-old Muslim girl shouting “Allah hu Akbar” at a large mob of men went viral. Muskan Khan has since appeared in various interviews explaining the backstory behind the video that sparked such a global outrage. The story however, begins prior to Khan’s incident, in Udupi, Karnataka. 

     In late January, a group of six girls at a government-run pre-university college in Udupi came forward claiming they had been asked to remove their hijab in their classrooms. According to BBC News, the college allowed the hijab to be worn around campus, but asked that it be removed within the classrooms themselves, with the principal stating, “that it was necessary for the teacher to see the student’s face, and that the uniform helped them ensure there was no discrimination among students.” 

     Almas AH, one of the six girls, explained why this new rule was an issue for the girls. “We have a few male teachers. We need to cover our hair before men. That is why we wear a hijab,” she revealed to BBC Hindi. “We all go to college every day despite not being allowed inside the class so that later we are not told we don’t have adequate attendance [to sit for exams].”

     The girls’ protests stirred chaos across multiple colleges throughout the state of Karnataka, with protests both for and against the hijab ban. In mid-February, Khan’s viral Twitter video brought the issue to an international level. The 19-year-old girl attending the PES College of Arts, Science, and Commerce in the Mandya school district came to school one day to find a mob of men she referred to as “outsiders.”

     In an interview originally in Hindi, Khan claimed that around forty men stood outside her college, blocking her from entering the building. “They told me ‘You will not go inside the college with a burqa on. If you want to go inside the college, take off your burqa. If you want to stay in your burqa, go back home,’” she revealed to BBC News. “Four girls came before me. They continuously harassed those girls to ‘remove their burqa’ until those girls left crying. Then they repeated it with me, but I didn’t run away, I stood my ground. I said ‘Allah hu Akbar.’”

     Khan brought to attention in her interviews that while the men repeatedly pestered the girls to remove their ‘burqa,’ none of the girls were actually wearing one. “We don’t wear a burqa, just a hijab to cover our hair,” Khan claimed, asserting that the religious choice had never been questioned prior to this situation. “Our college and our principal have said that we are allowed to come wearing a hijab. The principal has said himself that we can come just how we have been coming.”

     The mob of men had been chanting Hindu nationalist slogans at Khan along with their constant urges to ‘remove the burqa.’ Khan’s response, “Allah hu Akbar,” which, according to Merriam-Webster, translates to “God is greatest” however, had no political intention. “I was scared. When I’m scared, I say Allah’s name. When I say His name, I get strength,” she explained. “I’m not trying to get involved in politics. I am a student and my focus is on my education.”

     Not only did Khan’s video gain worldwide attention due to her bravery at standing up to some forty men, the video also brought to light how prevalent the marginalization of Muslim women is in today’s society. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist who was shot in the head for advocating female education, took to Twitter to address the issue she resonates so closely with. “Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying. Objectification of women persists — for wearing less or more. Indian leaders must stop the marginalization of Muslim women,” she wrote. 

     Discrimination against minority groups continues to be a persistent issue, and its constant detrimental impacts to the innocent individuals who are indirectly involved are having an adverse effect on societies as a whole. In addition to multiple girls being denied entry into their schools, the entire state of Karnataka shut down all educational institutions for three days following the chaos that had stirred throughout the state. 

     Many of the girls, including Khan herself, claim they wanted no part in the politics behind the issue, yet were forced to speak up when they were stripped of their right to an education. “I am not engaging in any form of casteism,” Khan replied when asked about her opinion on those protesting against the ban, who claim that because they cannot come to school wearing the attire they wish to, it is unfair to allow Muslim women to come wearing a hijab. “I am only standing up for my right and my education. These people are not allowing us to continue our education.”

     Ayesha, a teenage student at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College in Udupi, had a similar viewpoint to Khan’s, saying “We are not against any religion. We are not protesting against anyone. It is just for our own rights.”

      With education being such an integral part of today’s society, it is morally unjust to deny a student their right simply because of their religious beliefs. As Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom tweeted on February 11, “Religious freedom includes the ability to choose one’s religious attire. The Indian state of Karnataka should not determine permissibility of religious clothing. Hijab bans in schools violate religious freedom and stigmatize and marginalize women and girls.”

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Caption: Women in Karnataka have continued to protest the hijab ban. Multiple photographs and videos have surfaced on the internet of Muslims holding up signs reading “Hijab is our right.” “All that I want is to stand by my rights and education,” Khan asserts. 

Picture credits: Aljazeera

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