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Karnataka Police, meanwhile, have held flag parades in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts as part of preventive measures in community sensitive areas. There were, however, a few incidents which led to the exacerbation of tensions. In one such incident, a video has been shared since Friday showing students performing namaz at a school in Dakshina Kannada. The video was allegedly from a public school in Ankathadka of Dakshina Kannada. According to a source, the video showed students performing namaz on February 4, but it started being shared from Friday (February 11). Education department officials visited the school on Friday and asked for a report.
That day at the door, something about a friendship changed. As Mehek stood outside the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College (MGM) in Udupi, clutching the bars of the iron gate that had been closed to her, she and her friends as they showed up for their lab classes, the crowd mockingly behind her became “unbearable”. She swerved to face them and her eyes met his – her “close friend” from college, almost unrecognizable in her shawl and saffron turban.
What began at Udupi City Government Pre-University Girls’ College on December 27, when about six girls who insisted on wearing hijab in their classrooms were expelled, has since spread to others. District and state colleges, where, waving a government circular, colleges like MGM, which for decades have allowed students to wear the hijab in classrooms, have suddenly closed their doors to them.
Most Muslim students in these regions come to colleges with their burqas, which they take off in the “ladies’ room” before going to class. The hijab is usually the headscarf or dupatta wrapped around their head. Hijab policy, until now, had been left to individual colleges.
While the question of whether Udupi Girls’ College – where the case first arose – ever allowed hijabs in its classrooms continues to be in a gray area, protesting female students and with the leadership submitting photographs and other evidence to back up their respective claims, the matter turned political when the Campus Front of India, the student wing of the radical Muslim group, the People’s Front of India, stepped in to support girls. Pro-Hindutva groups have also jumped into the fray, showing up outside colleges in saffron shawls and asking to be allowed inside, making it almost a point of no return.
With colleges temporarily closed, Udupi nervously awaits a final word from the Karnataka High Court. On Friday, the court issued an interim order for colleges to reopen and for students to refrain from wearing clothing that is not prescribed by uniform college standards.
Is the hijab an essential practice in Islam? Does the student’s right to wear one override the school uniform code? These issues are now being contested in the High Court, under the supervision of the Supreme Court. But one trend is unmistakable: As with girls of other faiths, there has been a steady increase in the number of Muslim girls attending schools and colleges in Karnataka – and, indeed, across the country. Their number, as a share of their population, is still lower than that of non-Muslims, but the rise is significant and steady, several government surveys show.