14 Jan 2023 5:32 AM GMT
On 31st December, 2021, Government Girls PU College, Udupi imposed a sudden restriction on the hijab inside classrooms. The college enforced this restriction in the absence of any rule, resolution or guideline. The college uniform was a blue coloured chudidhar with dupatta, and they prohibited students from using the dupatta as a headscarf. Six students protested the move by sitting...
On 31st December, 2021, Government Girls PU College, Udupi imposed a sudden restriction on the hijab inside classrooms. The college enforced this restriction in the absence of any rule, resolution or guideline. The college uniform was a blue coloured chudidhar with dupatta, and they prohibited students from using the dupatta as a headscarf. Six students protested the move by sitting outside the classroom for 3 days and demanded that they be allowed to wear the hijab and attend classes.
15th March, 2022 The High Court of Karnataka passed a final order upholding the Government Order dated 05.02.2022 and thereby, allowed for restriction of the hijab in educational institutions. A Special Leave Petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India challenging the Karnataka HC order dated 15.03.2022.
The Supreme Court delivered a split verdict on the hijab ban. To adjudicate on the hijab restriction, the matter is referred to the Chief Justice of India for the constitution of a larger bench. The matter is still pending before the Supreme Court and the ban is still continuing which means a female student is still not allowed to attend classes while wearing a Hijab.
On January 9, a report was published by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) -Karnataka, which had undertaken a study titled as “Closing the Gates to Education: Violations of Rights of Muslim women students.” to investigate the impact of the imposed ban on the students and examine the role of authorities, administrative officials and police officials.
“Through conversations with students as well as authorities, and an analysis of events that transpired, it becomes visibly clear that Muslim women students were not only actively prevented from accessing their right to education, but also bore the brunt of a climate of hate, hostility and misinformation. Students have faced humiliation and harassment in their own classrooms at the hands of their faculty, college administration and classmates. The report documents how vigilante groups of Hindutva organisations carried out a vilification campaign against hijab wearing students and how the inaction of the government and police gave implicit encouragement to these fundamentalist forces.” reads the report
The objective of conducting this study/report was three-folded:
1. Firstly, to assess the impact of the restriction on wearing hijab on Muslim women students across Karnataka on their fundamental rights
2. Secondly, to document the experiences and struggles of the Muslim women students during the Karnataka High Court hearings as well as after the judgement was pronounced by the Karnataka High Court
3. Lastly, to investigate the roles of administrative authorities at the district level and at the college level and contextualise this education crisis amidst a larger global discourse around the hijab. The report also documents the way vigilante groups run by Hindutva organisations ran widespread hate campaigns, promoted by the Media.
The team for undertaking the study consisted of Aishwarya Ravikumar, Kishor Govind, Poorna Ravishankar, Ramdas Rao and Shashank S.R.
The report discussed the ‘Timeline of Events’, the sequence of major developments which transpired from December 31, 2021 to the split verdict delivered by the Supreme Court. With regard to legal and constitutional violations, the report provides an analysis of the violations of the female students rights:
1. Right to Education without discrimination: The report elaborates the ways in which Muslim women students were denied their right to education, by being forced to stay out of the classrooms. Students have also recounted their experiences of loss, broken dreams and career aspirations, discrimination, segregation from other non-hijab wearing students and their feeling of fear and insecurity within the campuses of their colleges.
2. Right to Dignity: Students recounted how the experience of being forced to choose between wearing the hijab and continuing their education was an assault on their dignity. Many students shared that being forced to remove the hijab made them feel naked in public. Students felt extremely vulnerable to further targeted attacks of hate and harassment.
3. Right to Privacy: Here, the report elaborates how the right to a personal choice was seized from Muslim women students. Students also shared how they were placed under the hostile gaze of the media which displayed many of their names and images on television and the internet.
4. Right to Freedom of Expression: This section shares the testimonies of students who shared that wearing the hijab was a way for them to exercise their freedom of expression. It is the idea of expression as including the freedom of dress and attire as encompassing a core dimension of individuality.
5. Right to Non-Discrimination: Muslim women students were not only excluded due to the imposed prohibition, but were denied any process or mechanism to appeal for reasonable accommodations. Instead, they were segregated from other students and were held solely responsible for ‘controversy’, even when there were protests held by students wearing saffron scarves.
6. Freedom from Arbitrary State Action: All actions taken by the district administration as well as college authorities, neither followed the due process of law, nor allowed any scope for students to be granted reasonable accommodations. The suddenness and arbitrariness of the ban imposed with immediate effect, has had far-reaching consequences on the academic lives, social relations and mental health of Muslim women students.
“It was traumatic to realise that they had, at a stroke, lost their education as well as the support of friends and teachers they had long trusted”
The study conducted by PUCL, Karnataka documents the voice of the affected students and cull out their concerns and experiences during the ban on Hijab, which is presently continuing. While talking about the ban, the female Muslim students felt an enormous shock when they got to know that some of their classmates and even friends had joined the bandwagon to oppose the Hijab.
“It was traumatic to realise that they had, at a stroke, lost their education as well as the support of friends and teachers they had long trusted. They also shared that the Muslim community felt isolated during the crisis, and wished that more citizens of India had stood up for their fundamental right.” reads the report
The report documents the voices of the affected students and aims to articulate their concerns and experiences during this imposed (and continuing) ban. Students have shared the daunting experience of having to negotiate with and request college administrations to permit them to continue their studies until the end of the year. They felt an enormous shock when they observed their several classmates and friends join the bandwagon to oppose the hijab. It was traumatic to realise that they had, at a stroke, lost their education as well as the support of friends and teachers they had long trusted. They also shared that the Muslim community felt isolated during this crisis, and wished that more citizens of India had stood up for their fundamental right.
Irresponsible interpretation by the Media
The report also discussed media’s wilful misinterpretation of the High Court Interim Order demanding a blanket ‘hijab ban’ After the High Court of Karnataka passed the interim order, Kannada TV channels took it upon themselves to decide on their own that this was applicable to all Muslim students and teachers in schools and colleges.
“Throughout the coverage mentioned in the above section, reporters were seen making a false interpretation of the Interim order of the High Court dated 11.02.2022 in WP 2347/2022 to indicate a complete ban on hijab. The reporters claimed that as per the said order there is a ban on hijab all over the state in educational institutions when this was far from the truth.” reads the report
Report’s analysis of the Supreme Court split verdict on Hijab Ban
While commenting upon Justice Gupta’s opinion which had upheld the ban, the reports reads that “the opinion of Justice Gupta fails to substantially engage with the case of the petitioners that their right to dignity, privacy, and equality is impaired by this arbitrary ban. The many failures of Justice Gupta’s opinion are thrown into stark relief by Justice Dhulia’s opinion grounded firmly in legal reasoning, judicial precedents as well as imbued with an extraordinary sense of compassion.”
On the other hand, the study appreciated Justice Dhulia’s approach and reads that Justice Dhulia’s opinion, at its heart, recognises that this is not an abstract argument but rather a judgment that will have real life implications for young Muslim women students, in flesh and blood. He does so most poignantly by referencing the incident in which Aishat Shifa and Tehrina Begum (second year students of Government Pre- University College in Kundapura) were one fine day stopped from entering their college because they were wearing a hijab.
“J. Dhulia, while admitting that schools do need discipline, states that they are not required to have the discipline and regimentation of a military camp. Importantly, he holds that discipline cannot be at the cost of dignity and autonomy. This approach by J. Dhulia is significant also because it reframes the question of the hijab in terms of its importance to the Muslim woman. By extension, it makes constitutional room for the complex reasons that influence women’s choices to wear or not wear the hijab and challenges the popular understanding of the hijab as only bearing religious connotations.” the report reads
However, strong as Justice Dhulia’s opinion is, it remains a split verdict. This split verdict will only prolong the students’ wait for justice. An urgent intervention by a larger bench of the Supreme Court is the only way the ambiguity over the future of lakhs of Muslim women students can be adequately addressed, reads the report.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The report was an outcome of an extensive field-report and this report has documented a state of continuing violation of the rights of Muslim women students who have been denied the right to education, as well as the core rights of dignity, expression and non-discrimination. In this regard, the report reads:
“This denial of the right to education of Muslim women is part of a larger politics of the attempt to erase Muslim identity from the public space. As such the politics around the hijab ban ties into the larger process under way to invisibilise, marginalise and ostracise the Muslim community and needs to be recognized as such. University spaces are the training grounds for citizenship, where students, through a common experience, develop shared understandings of how society functions., these spaces are critical in creating a sense of solidarity across the diverse cultural and religious communities of the country, and promoting the value of fraternity between students as well as a shared understanding of the irreducible value of dignity. As the Preamble pithily puts it, ‘fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.”
To achieve this Preambular value, it is important that our educational spaces be as diverse as possible. University spaces should actively ensure that people from all parts of society be present in all the manners in which they wish to represent themselves, be it along the lines of community, religion, creed, or gender. What was worrying was that in many colleges, the team heard members of the administration repeat that they envisioned a future of a homogeneous student population, where practices such as women covering their heads are erased. These did not reflect a vision of a plural and diverse society which reflected our constitutional values but rather a society and a future quite at odds with the Constitution.
This abdication of what Ambedkar would have called, ‘constitutional morality’ was most evident in the response of the State of Karnataka. It consciously and deliberately went out of its way to deny Muslim women the right to choose their attire. It privileged uniforms over education. At all points in time it consciously shirked its constitutional responsibility under Article 46 to ‘make effective provision for securing the right to education’ and its constitutional responsibility to ensure the right to education without discrimination.
The study/report also made certain recommendations to elective representatives, state government, district administration, media and police etc. These recommendations also included recommendation to the state government - that it should ensure that the students’ right to dignity, privacy and expression is protected within schools and colleges as mandated by Article 21 and Article 19 (1)(a) and it should compensate students for the loss they have suffered due to its unconstitutional and arbitrary action which has deprived Muslim girl students of their constitutional rights to education, expression, dignity and non-discrimination.
The full report by PUCL can be accessed here.
A summary of the report can be accessed here in English and here in Kanada.