As the six young girls, all wearing black burka, stepped out of a white car and walked briskly towards the Udupi Press Club on Tuesday, they were preparing to answer questions on what they felt about the Karnataka High Court verdict on wearing hijab to class.
They had been through a marathon briefing session by the Campus Front of India on how they should tackle the questions by the media. But soon reality hit them when questions were asked about their future at the press conference.
When asked how they plan to continue their education if they keep insisting on attending classes wearing hijab, the girls argued that wearing the headscarf is part of their religion.
“We also want to continue our education. We will prepare ourselves for the exam, we are ready to write it as well. But we will do so wearing our hijab,“ said Aliya Assadi, one of the six petitioners.
“We believed in our judicial system, had full faith that we would be given justice. We trusted the courts, our constitution and thought we would get our constitutional rights. But we did not get justice. We are very dejected,” said Ayesha Almas, another petitioner.
Hijab is not a part of essential religious practice, the Karnataka High Court ruled on Tuesday as it backed its interim order banning the headscarves in classrooms. Several districts in Karnataka, including Udupi, Shivamogga, Kundapura, and Chikkamgalur have seen violent protests over the past weeks against the restriction.
“We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith,” the judgement said.
The controversy erupted in late December last year when the six Muslim students were barred from attending classes wearing the headscarf.
“They said that hijab is not part of our religion, but I have to say it is an important aspect in our religion that we have to wear the hijab. I have decided that I will attend classes only wearing hijab,” said Ayesha to News18.com.
But many educationists and social thinkers are of the opinion that the petitioners must rethink their strategy.
Dr Mahabaleshwar Rao, a senior educator based in Udupi, emphasised that the girls are throwing their futures away.
“They should understand that it was a simple issue of indiscipline, where they have stated they will not wear the uniform prescribed. It could have been sorted out within the college itself. It is the fundamental forces of both religions that are making it a political issue. This is hurting the educational system and social fabric,” said Dr Rao to News18.com. “A uniform is a symbol of unity, a non-religious code to show one belongs to a particular institution. I welcome the court order and this brought clarity to all educational institutions on the issue of a dress code.”
Chambi Puranik, who served as a professor of political science at the Mysuru University, is of the opinion that the issue is very “myopic” and the girls should be worried about their future. “It’s like saying their belief, faith, and religion are more important. I want to tell the girls they are missing out on their own future. If they don’t write their exams or attend classes, they are going to be the losers,” Dr Puranik said. “This issue cannot be sustained. Many Muslim women have kept quiet as they are aware of their own segregation in the community. In this century, taking into consideration the support and empowerment of Muslim women, despite religious leaders opposing it, the women enjoy their empowerment.”
Mangaluru based pro-women activist Vidya Dinker told News18.com that the hijab issue would lead to Muslim girls being pushed into Muslim-run institutions. “This will be a real travesty of justice and everything that we hold dear in terms of equality, fraternity, and what the constitution envisages for us,” she said.
Dinker also emphasised that the educational institutions and their college development committee should sit down to understand the High Court order.
“They should understand that the onus is now on them (the educational institutions) to create a secular educational space. They need to make a decision on whether they can allow hijab or other such markers of religious identities. If you say hijab cannot be worn, then what about other religious markers?” she asked while speaking to News18.com.