Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has asked students in junior colleges to adhere to the state government’s rules regarding uniforms until the issue over wearing of headscarves in classes is addressed by the High Court.
Bommai, who is on a visit to Delhi to discuss the expansion of his cabinet among other things, refused to comment on the dress code controversy in junior colleges in the state, which has kept several Muslim girls out of classes for wearing the hijab or headscarf.
“Since the matter is in court, I do not want to discuss it,” he said on Monday morning. “For now, the instructions on uniforms issued in the circular (of February 5) should be followed until the high court decides on the matter,” Bommai said.“Exams are coming up and all students must follow the circular. Students must maintain peace,” the chief minister added.
The controversy, which erupted when six students of a college in Udupi protested a move by the institution to prevent them from wearing the hijab in class, has spread to many colleges in Udupi and other districts of Karnataka. The protests were countered by Hindu students who sought to attend classes wearing saffron shawls, leading to disruption of classes.
On Monday, a junior college in Udupi’s Kundapura allowed Muslim girls to enter the college campus on the condition that the 22 girls who came wearing hijabs would have to attend classes in a separate classroom.
The ban on hijabs has been questioned by some students of the Udupi government junior college in the Karnataka High Court. The students have argued that the ban violates the Right to Freedom of Religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution of India. The high court is scheduled to hear the matter soon. On February 5, the Karnataka government issued a circular which virtually directed colleges to maintain status quo on norms regarding uniforms for the current academic year. The circular justified the move by some colleges to ban hijabs in classrooms by stating that it does not violate the students’ fundamental right to practice their religion. It also invoked a section of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 which allows the state to issue directions to colleges on curriculum that maintains social harmony and upholds Constitutional values.
Prior to the protests in Udupi last month, the students attended classes without the hijab, but wore it on the campus. Following the students’ protests seeking the right to wear the hijab in classes as well, many of the college councils – headed by local BJP MLAs – have hardened their stance on banning it inside classrooms.