September 24, 2022

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Row Over Namaz, Hijab Ban Leave Karnataka Schools Polarised

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The headmistress, who was suspended for allowing Muslim students to perform namaz inside the school, said the child had to cross a busy national highway to reach the mosque making them vulnerable to accidents and sending them out would expose them to COVID-19

A government school headmistress in Kolar district in Karnataka was suspended by the  authorities for reportedly acting in the best interests of her students.

Uma Devi, the headmistress of Mulbagal Someswara Palaya Bale Changappa Government Kannada Model Higher Primary School, was suspended for allowing a section of the students to perform the Friday namaz on the campus. Out of a total strength of 400 students, 165 are Muslims in the school. After a video of these children praying in the campus was mischievously posted on social media, pro-Hindu outfits barged into the school and staged a protest.

Subsequently, the Kolar district administration dispatched a four-member team to the school to conduct an inquiry and found that the headmistress had “made a mistake” by giving students permission to conduct namaz in the school on Friday (January 21).

According to the Kolar district authorities, the Muslims students were given permission to offer namaz during the break and they would go to a nearby mosque and return to the school after their prayers. Any kind of religious prayers on the school campus however is not allowed and hence they suspended the headmistress.

However, the school headmistress had said that she had allowed the children to offer namaz at the school since they had to cross a busy national highway to reach the mosque making them vulnerable to accidents and some of them were not returning in time to attend the in-class sessions. Secondly, she had not wanted to expose them to COVID-19 by going outside the school since cases were rising in Mulbagal.

But the headmistress’ good intentions went awry as the Hindu outfits demanded action against her. Though the authorities admitted that her intentions were good, they still suspended her.

Meanwhile, the hijab controversy that broke out at a Government Pre-University College in Udupi in Karnataka too has not died down. Six Muslim girls who were denied entry into their classrooms for wearing the hijab have been protesting for nearly a month now outside the college.

According to the students, they were being treated like “criminals” for demanding the fundamental right to practise their religion. The situation has reached a stage where the Karnataka state Education Department has intervened to state that it will constitute a committee to formulate guidelines on uniforms at PU colleges across the state.

The state’s Department Of Pre-University Education is planning to release a uniform policy for students to avoid “disturbing the environment of the colleges”. Indian Express reported that a letter issued by Padmini S N, under-secretary of the Education Department (Pre-University Education), said, “Presently, there is no uniform prescribed by the department to follow and it has been left on the colleges. But after the incident in Udupi district where students demanded to be allowed to attend college in clothes of their choice (hijab), the state government has decided to analyse the court orders in this issue and a committee will be formed.”

While the college principal has said that the students are trying to create “confusion which is not good for academics”, Udupi BJP MLA K Raghupathi Bhat “suggested” that students wearing the hijab to college must opt for online classes until the issue is resolved by the state government. The students have refused to follow his suggestion.

Bhat has blamed “vested interests” for fanning the issue, which is garnering international attention. He told reporters that the colleges had always set their own rules and “there are Christian missionary-run colleges and a few of them do not allow Hindu students to wear bangles or bindis”. Nobody had questioned that because it was the decision of the college, he pointed out, adding that in Udupi district too students did not have any problem until now. Suddenly, ‘they’ have brought up this issue, he said, reported news websites.

Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice on January 27 to the Karnataka government over the controversy.

According to the notice, the facts of the case are disturbing. The allegations made in the complaint are serious in nature involving ‘Right to Education’ and the case, therefore, involves a grave violation of human rights of the victim students, said the notice, reported news websites.

The notice has been sent to the District Magistrate, Udupi, Principal Secretary of the Department of Higher Education, calling for their report in four weeks.

This is not the first time such an incident has occurred in Karnataka in recent years. Similar incidents have been reported in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Chikkamagaluru districts.

In 2018, Hindu students in a government first grade college of Balagadi village in Chikkamagaluru district donned saffron scarves and demanded that the college should not allow students to wear burqa and hijab inside the classroom. The principal, who held a meeting with parents, was able to convince them that hijab would be allowed, but not the burqa.

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