Feature: Golden girls of Karnataka: Their Hijab proves a point against stereotypes

Rabia Shireen

Bushra Mateen and Lamya Majeed, both hijabi girls from Karnataka, have set new records in their respective fields breaking the glass ceiling. In the bargain, they have also broken the stereotypes associated with the hijabi girls that they are oppressed and hence can’t compete with others. They have proved that nothing can stop them from making it big.

A student of civil engineering from SLN College of Engineering, Raichur, Bushra has bagged as many as 16 gold medals in the 21st annual convocation of Visvesvaraya Technology Institute in Belagavi on March 10, breaking the previous records of 13 gold medals by Ahad Tarade (BE civil) in 2014. She has secured first rank in the whole of Karnataka.

Lamya Majeed, a native of Mangalore district, has won seven gold medals and two cash prizes in M Sc Botany at the 102nd convocation of the University of Mysore.

Both the golden girls of Karnataka, Bushra and Lamya, proudly wear hijab. They proved everyone, who have doubts the calibre of hijab-wearing girls and advocated hijab ban in educational institutions in the state, wrong.

Speaking to Clarion India, Bushra said, “I had no idea that I would be awarded with so many medals. When I saw one of my seniors winning gold, I had just dreamed of reaching there. Now that the dream has turned into a reality, I think it would not have been possible without the grace of Allah.”

When asked how she could be able to achieve the feat, she said through sheer hard work. She acknowledged the contribution of everyone who helped her in her pursuit. While I’m grateful to the Almighty for the success, I can’t forget the support extended to me by my parents.

“During my first year of pre-university course (PUC), I had dreamt of pursuing MBBS. But the same year, NEET entrance test was introduced, and I thought I wasn’t able to write the all-India Level exam. I wasn’t sure of getting a medical seat. Since my mathematics is strong in comparison to biology, I opted to pursue the degree course in engineering and focused more on those subjects,” said Bushra who scored 93.33 in her pre-university and a CET ranking of 7000.

The golden girl of Karnataka, who was among the top five scorers in the entire district from the minority community in her PUC, was aspiring for the top colleges in cities like Bangalore and Hubli to pursue software engineering to boost her chances of placement in multinational companies. But after bagging a good rank in CET, she said, “I thought why go to big cities; why not study in my own district. After all, once I complete my studies, I can take up a job any place of my choice. A degree in civil engineering can get me a job in any city, or even abroad.”

Recounting her stint at the engineering college, she said, “When I got the first rank in the first semester, there was some negativity with several people saying it’s all because of her luck, not hard work. Maybe she’s not that good in studies. But when I came first in the second year too, everyone believed it was because of my hard work.”

For the first two semesters, she said she topped. After that, the website that used to show ranking crashed. Since then, no one knew who the topper was. Says the hijabi girl who secured first rank in the first two semesters of VTU, which has more than 218 colleges all over the state, “Alhamdulillah, in all the eight semesters I was the topper of my college. On March 5, when I got the news that I secured first rank in the university with 16 gold medals, the highest in the history of 24 years of VTU, I joy knew no bound.”

On March 10, at the Belagavi main campus of VTU, Bushra received her gold medals from speaker of the Lok Sabha Om Birla in the presence of state Governor, Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Minister of Higher Education Dr. CN Ashwathnarayan, chief guest on the occasion .

“I never thought I could top in the entire Karnataka as I belonged to Raichur, a district which lags behind in terms of education. Alhamdulillah, I could be able to do it against all the odds. It was a proud moment,” she exclaimed.

The most precious moment in her life is when her father broke into tears of joy while she was being awarded.

“Since only one parent was allowed inside the convocation hall, my father came along. I gave him my phone to take some snaps or videos while I was receiving the award. But when the moment of glory came, he failed to concentrate on catching it on the camera as he couldn’t fight back tears rolling down his eyes. This is the most precious thing for me. He proudly says while everyone is known by their fathers, he is known by his daughter,” she recounted.

The golden girl of Karnataka aspires to become an IAS officer as her ultimate goal. “If I could serve my country, it’s a matter of pride for me,” she told Clarion India.

“I would like to improve education system as a payback since whatever I have achieved today is through education, the appreciation I’m getting is due to education. I have learnt a nation can develop only when it has a proper education system in place,” she the 22-year-old topper adding that she also wants to focus on health sector to work for better hospitals, health facilities.

When asked about the struggle and the obstacles she faced during her journey, she said, “I won’t call it a struggle, but my hard work used to be there like waking up at four o’clock, offering tahajjud namaz (overnight prayers) and completing my studies. I had morning routines, daily updates. My family always supported me. Alhamdulillah my father said whatever dreams you have, do fulfill them. I will do everything for that.”

Even though Bushra’s father is a civil engineer, he couldn’t afford a management seat for her. She said she had to work hard during her CET to get a government seat. “I didn’t want to go through management shelling out lakhs of rupees.”

About her brother who supported throughout her journey, she said, “My brother is the most important person in my life. Since my father lives in Lingsugur taluk of Raichur because of his job, my brother has always there to help me, support me throughout my four-year journey.”

How her relatives reacted to her making it big in studies being a girl being, she admits receiving negative comments at times. “But the most important thing is that it’s not an obstacle as long as my parents are there to support me. ”

When asked if she faced any resistance for wearing a headscarf, she said, “I wore hijab all my life. I went to my college with a headscarf on, but never faced any resistance. We live in a secular and democratic country where a citizen’s fundamental rights are secure. And for us, the Constitution is supreme.”

The message Burshra wants to convey to other girls… She said, “I would like to tell them to come out of their homes in pursuit of educated, take a degree, become financially independent. This is the message I have for all my Indian sisters. I want them never to compromise on their dreams or feel inferior to men. Prove you worth in any field they choose, be it education, sports or household job.”

Like Bushra Mateen, Lamya Majeed, who came first in M Sc Botany, never expected that she would bag so many gold medals. “I didn’t even know of this concept until my second semester. I was an average student. So, when I got the news I came first and bagged so many medals, I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” she told Clarion India.

When asked why she chose botany as her subject, she said, “I wanted to become a research scientist. Doctors and engineers are not the only professions. Although I’m not against people going into it, that’s how everyone portrayed it to me when I took B Sc. I was looked as someone who didn’t get medical that’s why I chose this, but I was interested in the study of plants, that’s why I took this. I want to go into research and develop it.”

“I had my dreams and aspirations, but since I chose B Sc, everyone around me thought it would be wasting my potential. Any subject other than engineering or medicine is deemed inferior in the society.”

She further said, “Very few knew what I was studying until I bagged those medals. Now, everyone is calling up to congratulate me.”

The M Sc Botany topper from coastal Karnataka is currently working on her master’s from the University of Mysore and wants to pursue Ph D and become a research scientist in the subject.

“Currently, I’m appearing for competitive exams and trying to build a portfolio so I could apply for PhD, both in India and abroad. There are many opportunities waiting for me, I am just exploring the options in front of me,” she said.

Majeed, who wore hijab since her childhood, says doesn’t want to comment on it (hijab controversy). “I have nothing to say about it; you can see it as it is. I’m just wearing it, treat it as a statement from me.”

(Rabia Shireen is a journalist based in Bengaluru, Karnataka)

Clarion India