Hiba Sheikh, pursuing graduation in India’s southern province of Karnataka could not appear in the practical sessions of her annual exams last month, as the college authorities refused to allow students to wear hijab or headscarf.
"My internal exams were on March 3 … The college authorities are saying to remove the hijab and then come to college. But I am not okay with it," she told Anadolu Agency.
She said that taking cover of the Karnataka High court order pronounced on March 15 that upheld the ban on wearing hijab in classrooms, college authorities have been preventing Muslim girls to enter the premises with headscarves.
The move is affecting the education of Muslim girls across the state, which is known as India’s science capital, because of hosting numerous institutions related to information technology, electronics, and space.
Read more: Forcing Muslim women to decide between hijab, education is injustice: Zaira Wasim
India’s national news agency Press Trust of India has reported that 40 Muslim girl students from the Udupi district of Karnataka alone have stayed away from appearing for the pre-university exams.
"I am worried about my education. Exams are going on and I don't know what to do. It is worrying every student because it is happening at the end of the academic year. Not sitting in exams means loss of one year,” said Sheikh.
The court had ruled that "wearing of hijab by Muslim women doesn't form a part of essential religious practice in the Islamic faith.” The verdict had come following petitions filed by Muslim women who were being disallowed to attend classes because of their hijab.
The issue surfaced when hijab-clad Muslim students were barred from entering their classrooms at a government college in Udupi district in Karnataka in January. Subsequently, the issue spread to other institutions in Karnataka.
Sheikh is not alone. Several hijab-wearing students wearing told Anadolu Agency that college authorities were not allowing them to sit in exams.
Muskan stays away from exam
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Ramzaan Khan, father of Muskaan Khan who has become a symbol of resistance to protect the right to wear hijab, said that her daughter did not appear in the annual exams.
Also read: India court upholds state hijab ban in schools, could set national precedent
"I met the college administration couple of times and requested to allow her to sit in the exam wearing a hijab. Our request was not entertained and there was no other option for my daughter but to skip the exam," said Khan
In February, a video widely circulated on social media showed Muskan a college girl in a headscarf being harassed by a mob of men with saffron shawls -- a colour seen as a Hindu symbol, but also associated with the ruling rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"She (Muskan) is feeling bad about it because the college didn't agree to our request about writing the exam in a hijab," said Khan, lamenting that his daughter lost a year of her education.
Activists say the hijab ban by the court had adversely affected the educational pursuits of Muslim girls in the region.
"It has impacted very badly. A large number of students have not appeared in the exam and the sad part is that till April, many more exams are scheduled and there is no sign of relief so far,” said Asma Zehra, chief organiser of the Women's Wing of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, apex umbrella body of Islamic scholars.
Suspension of teachers
Local news broadcaster Indian Today said seven teachers in the state's Gadag district were suspended for allowing girl students to wear the hijab as they appeared for the 10th-grade examination.
According to Zehra, the college management should have waited for some time so that the education of girls is not impacted.
"At least they could have given a grace period of one year so that the parents and students are in a better position to decide, which college to choose for education," she said, adding that education is "the only hope of survival in today's time and if you barred them and force them not to wear hijab, it is nothing but majoritarianism”.
Sheikh said now the only hope is left with the Supreme Court, where students and Muslim groups have challenged the Karnataka High Court verdict.
The BJP which is governing the state, however, says the students should follow the court orders.
"No one can question High Court order. The students should follow it ... by not appearing in the exams, it means they (students) are not interested in the education that is why, they are doing it," Yashpal Suvarna, a local leader of the BJP, told Anadolu Agency.
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