Bengaluru, India When AH Almas, 18, and two of her friends walked into their classroom on a December morning, the teacher immediately shouted at them, “Go out.”
The Muslim girls were not allowed to sit in the classroom because they wore Hijab, or headscarf.
“When we arrived at the door of the classroom, the teacher said we could not enter with the Hijab,” Almas told Al Jazeera. “She asked us to remove it.”
Since then, a group of six Muslim students at a government-run women’s college in Udupi district in Karnataka state in India in the south have been forced to sit outside the classroom because the college administration claims they are violating the rules as Hijab is not part of the classroom. uniform.
But the girls told Al Jazeera that the Hijab is “part of their faith” and its practice is “their right guaranteed under the law”. They maintained a defiant attitude, even though the administration allegedly used “pressure tactics” to force them to surrender.
The girls have been marked as absent from their classes since December 31, even though they say they go to college every day.
“We are not going to falter,” Aliya Assadi, who is part of the group, told Al Jazeera.
A photo of the students dressed in Hijab and university uniform while sitting on the stairs outside their classroom went viral on social media.
“It is because of this photo that our issue has been highlighted in the media,” Assadi said.
Standoff continues to #Oedupi girls college about the #HijabisOurReg issue. 4 Students are still not allowed to enter the class. Principal Rudre Gowda has called for parents to meet next week. Say rules must be followed. No exception.@CampusFrontInd supported these students. pic.twitter.com/VnxgMjBw1h
– Imran Khan (@KeypadGuerilla) 15 January 2022
Their protest upset the college administration, which according to the group forced them to write a letter in which they accepted that they had missed the classes by staying at home on their own.
“We tried to refuse, but the principal and the teachers threatened us that they would ruin our careers,” Muskan Zainab, another student, told Al Jazeera.
Zainab said they were glad the “whole world” saw them being forced to sit outside the classroom, thus dropping the administration’s claims.
However, the students also faced humiliation and discrimination for their defiance.
“Having to stay out of class all day is not a pleasant thing to do. Our teachers and fellow students tease us. They ask us what our problem is in taking off the Hijab. “Why can’t you just follow the rules, they ask,” Almas told Al Jazeera.
“One of my friends fell ill because of this mental torture.”
The students say they are concerned about the attendance percentage required to be able to write the annual exams.
Rudre Gowda, the principal, told Al Jazeera that they could not allow the students to wear Hijab in classrooms “as it is not part of the uniform”. He said they adhere to the prescriptions issued by the education ministry.
Gowda said it was the first time such problems had surfaced in college, but the alumni said they had experienced similar problems in the past.
“Once a teacher had a student wearing a hijab sit on the floor in the middle of the class and take off her hijab. We faced a lot of humiliation because we chose to wear the hijab. But at that time, they did allow us into the classroom, ”Athiya, who is currently studying at Manipal University in Karnataka, told Al Jazeera.
The Hijab ban has caused a dispute in India with student groups accusing the college administration of prejudice against Muslims.
“We stand firm with them in absolute solidarity and support. We demand that those in the administration who stop Muslim girls from wearing the Hijab be suspended and that these girls be allowed to enter their classrooms with their Hijabs, their self-respect and dignity, ”activist Afreen Fatima, secretary of the Fraternity Movement in New Delhi , told Al Jazeera.
“This is Islamophobia. It is apartheid, “she said.
A local lawyers’ association wrote to the state government demanding that an investigation be launched against the college administration and teachers for “harassing” the students.
“The refusal of education to young Muslim students and forcing them to choose between education and their religion is a human rights issue and should be treated as such,” the association wrote in its letter.
The Campus Front of India (CFI), an organization of Muslim students active in southern Indian states, has urged the college to repeal its rules on Hijab and allow students to wear them while attending classes.
“The girls are demanding their fundamental rights. We stand with them in this fight, ”Aseel Akram, a CFI member in Udupi, told Al Jazeera.
The student body met with college and university officials to resolve the issue, but Akram said no action had been taken yet. He claimed the college and district authorities were under pressure from the state government to deny the girls their rights.
Karnataka is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
K Raghupati Bhat, a local BJP legislator who also heads a committee in Udupi College, told the parents of the students during a meeting that the college will continue with its uniform code, regardless of the religious preferences of the students.
After the controversy over Hijab in Udupi erupted, students in at least two other colleges in the state, including members of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), staged demonstrations while wearing saffron scarves inside the colleges and a ban on Hijab.
ABVP is a student group affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the far-right ideological mentor of the BJP with millions of members across India dedicated to their goal of creating an ethnic Hindu state in India.
Over the years, Karnataka has seen an increase in Hindu nationalist activities and the target of the state’s religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians.
Last month, the Karnataka state assembly passed legislation that effectively bans religious conversion, with the BJP government claiming that Christian mission groups “powerful conversions” of Hindus, a claim rejected by Christian religious leaders.
Back at the college in Udupi, the girls told Al Jazeera they would continue to assert their rights.
“We’re not going to falter,” Assadi said.