Southern Indian State Shuts Down All Schools After Attempted Hijab Ban Prompts Protests

Southern Indian State Shuts Down All Schools After Attempted Hijab Ban Prompts Protests

All high schools and colleges across Southern India’s Karnataka state were shut down on Thursday as part of a three-day suspension of classes ordered by state officials after minority Muslim Karnataka students protested bans on wearing Islamic veils at Karnataka learning institutions imposed by the Hindu majority state in recent days.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on February 8 announced a three-day shutdown of all Karnataka secondary schools and colleges lasting from February 9 through February 11. The state leader said Thursday he may extend the school closure for an undetermined amount of time.

“I’ll hold a meeting with Primary and Secondary education Minister BC Nagesh and other officials along with State Home Minister Araga Dnyanendra to discuss briefly whatever happened. Will take a decision today evening on extending the closure of all high schools and colleges,” Bommai told reporters on February 10, as quoted by India’s Mint newspaper.

Bommai ordered the school closures in an effort to quell growing unrest sweeping Karnataka campuses since January that began when a group of five Muslim girls insisted on wearing hijabs in class at a college in the Karnataka city of Udupi despite the school’s policy prohibiting the wearing of religious garments. A hijab is a type of Muslim veil that covers most of a woman’s head.

The group of Muslim students claimed they were barred from attending classes at Udupi’s Government P.U. College for Girls following the incident. Their allegation inspired several Muslim students at other Karnataka schools to similarly protest in favor of veiling by early February.

Video footage captured by Indian media on February 8 showed a lone Muslim student at the P.E.S. College of Engineering in Karnataka’s Mandya city as she proudly wore what appeared to be a niqab to class. A niqab is a Muslim veil covering a woman’s entire head and face except for her eyes.

#HijabRow#saffronshawls
When a lone girl student arrives to college in #Mandya wearing Hijab, she gets heckled by students wearing Saffron Shawls who chanted #JaiSriRam.In reply she raises hand to say #AllahuAkbar@XpressBengaluru@santwana99@NewIndianXpress@KannadaPrabhapic.twitter.com/gRt4hEseZI

— Karthik K K (@Karthiknayaka) February 8, 2022

The female student is seen in the video walking to class. As she nears the school’s entrance, a mob of dozens of young men wearing saffron-colored scarves affiliated with Hindu nationalism approach her and shout in Hindi, “Jai Shri Ram,” or “Glory to [the Hindu] Lord Ram.” The young woman raises her fist while yelling, “Allahu Akbar,” or “Allah [the Islamic God] is Great” in return.

“On February 5, the Karnataka government passed an order that barred students from wearing clothes that ‘disturb equality, integrity and public order,'” India’s News9 digital platform reported.

“[S]tudents who insist on wearing hijab should not be allowed into government educational institutions,” Karnataka State Education Minister B.C. Nagesh said at the time.

India’s latest-available census data (released in 2011) showed 84 percent of Karnataka’s population of 61.1 million was Hindu while just 12.9 percent was Muslim. The same figures showed 79.8 of India’s population of 1.2 billion (at the time) identified as Hindu.

Gabrielle Reyes