Humayun Aziz Sandeela
Unprovoked attacks on Muslims by Hindu mobs is not a new phenomenon in India, and nothing has been done to stop them; instead, public calls for a genocide of Muslims have been made through Haridwar Dharam Sansad-style events, but now followers of Hindutva ideology are attempting to create a stereotype of the Muslim woman, and want to fit every Muslim woman into it, and this is done through the ‘HIjab,’ a square scarf that covers a woman’s head. The recent Hijab controversy in India appears to be an attempt to demean Muslim women.
On January 1, 2022, a Hijab row erupted in the Indian state of Karnataka after the management of a government pre-university college in the coastal town of Udupi barred six Muslim girls from attending classes for wearing Hijab.
The issue has now spiraled into a massive row as Hindu college students are now wearing saffron scarves and flying saffron flags, demanding the right to display their religious garb and symbols if Hijab is permitted in educational institutions.
Although the three-member larger bench of the Karnataka High Court, hearing the Hijab case, ordered on February 10 that no religious symbols should be allowed for students until its final order, effectively prohibiting the use of both the Hijab and saffron shawls in school and college grounds, the issue that has arisen is of a different nature.
The safety of protesting Muslim girls from the Udupi Government Pre-University College, who appear irritated and apprehensive that their college authorities have leaked their addresses and mobile numbers making them vulnerable to harassment and attacks.
The man behind the Hijab row, chairman of the College’s Development Committee (CDC) is Udupi’s BJP MLA Raghupathi Bhat, who since December 2021 had been at the forefront of maintaining that Muslim students in Hijab are not allowed inside classrooms is believed to have some hand behind this controversy as well.
As if Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals were not enough to humiliate Muslim women in India, now the college students embroiled in Hijab row in Karnataka have been made a soft target for harassment at the hands of Hindutva trolls on Whatsapp groups.
Aliya Assadi, one of the six Muslim students of Udupi’s Government Pre-University College for Girls, who have been at the forefront of the protests to continue wearing the hijab in Karnataka’s educational institutions claimed to have been getting abusive phone calls since February, 09, when her admission data like other girls was leaked.
A few hours into the day, the 17-year-old discovered that her personal information, including phone numbers, parents’ names, and home address, had been published on Whatsapp groups bustling with activity in Udupi, Karnataka.
On February 9, all six students’ enrollment documents were leaked from the pre-university campus, according to The Quint, which also acquired an internet message that identified the females by their names and images. The mail, which was sent as a PDF document, included scanned copies of admission forms from the college’s ledger, showing that the leak originated within the school, which is extremely risky for these young women.
The Muslim students made it clear that the admission documents were only submitted to the college so how come without the college authorities’ knowledge, they could not have made rounds on social media.
Aliya Assadi, who had usually addressed the media in Hijab, has now started wearing a burqa fearing vulnerability to harassment and attacks.
Some activists believe the ban has heightened fears of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
Zakia Soman, the founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, an Indian Muslim women’s movement, also noted that men wearing saffron robes has become a frequent sight in India, with a sitting minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet wearing saffron robes. She said that Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, is always dressed in saffron robes, and asked what business these individuals have questioning hijab-wearing women. By supporting the saffron scarf protests, BJP MLA Raghupathi Bhat instigated the students to wear saffron shawls, Assadi alleged saying and now he has made, not just the college, but also their homes unsafe.
The students said that the hate campaign has disturbed them mentally. Over the last few days, they have lost a lot while fighting for their right to wear the hijab.
Assadi said that the first thing she lost was her mental peace.
They are mentally harassed and tortured…they have lost time, giving a lot of media bites. The student says they always try to weigh their words every time they speak publicly, to avoid further controversy. But with the data leak from college, their life has become even tougher.
In the fight for hijab, perhaps, losing peace at home has been the worst of losses that the students have endured.