A college in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad started a fresh row over the dress code when over a dozen Muslim students wearing burqas were denied entry on campus on Wednesday. The students were told they would not be allowed to enter unless they removed their burqa. This led the girls to stage a sit-in protest at the college gate.

According to reports, the college professor, Dr AP Singh said that they have implemented a dress code for the students here and anybody who refuses to follow it will be barred from entering the college campus. “A strict dress code has come into effect since January 1 and each student was informed in advance about it. We have decided that none of the students will be allowed entry into the premises if they are not wearing the college uniform,” said A P Singh, the chief proctor of Hindu College.

“Special arrangements have been made on campus by setting up a changing room where those in burqas can remove it and go to the college in proper uniform and when they come out of the main gate, they again can wear the same,” Singh added.

To this, the members of Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha submitted a memorandum to include the burqa in the dress code for college, and allow the girls to attend their classes wearing it.

This comes after the hijab row earlier in January 2022, when massive protests broke out in Karnataka after some students of Government Girls PU college in the Udupi district of the state alleged that they had been barred from attending classes. During the protests, some students claimed they were denied entry into the college for wearing hijab.

Following this incident, students of different colleges arrived at Shanteshwar Education Trust in Vijayapura wearing saffron stoles. The situation was the same in several colleges in the Udupi district. The Pre-University education board had released a circular stating that students can wear only the uniform approved by the school administration and that no other religious practices will be allowed in colleges.

The matter was then taken up to the Karnataka High Court which dismissed various petitions challenging a ban on hijabs in educational institutions and said that wearing a hijab is not an essential religious practice of Islam. However, when taken to the Supreme Court, the apex body on October 13, 2022, pronounced a split verdict in the Karnataka hijab ban case.

The incident has raised concerns among the civil society who are still reeling from the loss of education for many girls after a report was published stating Muslim women students were not only “actively prevented from accessing their right to education but also bore the brunt of a climate of hate, hostility, and misinformation”.

The report was published by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) – Karnataka unit (PUCL-K) on the impact of the hijab ban on Muslim girl students in Karnataka. The report, ‘Closing the Gates to Education: Violations of Rights of Muslim Women Students in Karnataka’, also examines the role of college authorities and administrative and police officials with respect to the ban.

The study was conducted by the PUCL in five Karnataka districts – Hassan, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Shimoga, and Raichur. The PUCL alleged that Hindutva organisations carried out a vilification campaign against hijab-wearing students and the inaction of the government and the police gave implicit encouragement to such fundamentalist forces.

The PUCL study noted that the state government’s response in the monsoon session of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly revealed that a total of 1,010 hijab-wearing girls dropped out of PU colleges “because of the hijab ban and other reasons as well”.

The PUCL said the government has failed to fulfil its obligation to uphold Article 41 of the Constitution (effective provision for securing the right to education).

The PUCL report further states that Muslim girl students faced humiliation and harassment in classrooms at the hands of the faculty, college administration, and classmates.

“Our main fear was that our attendance records would get affected. The principal told us that those who wore the hijab should sit at home and give up on their studies,” a student in Hassan district told PUCL.

In other cases, students endured emotional turmoil because of the imposed ban. In Udupi, a student shared, “There are very limited options for some of us. We cannot afford a transfer to another college. So, I was forced to remove my hijab. I felt naked without my hijab.”

In Dakshina Kannada, a student said that the classroom became an extremely divided space. “Our classmates will not even share their notes with us to help us. Even college clerks and staff refused to provide any support to enable us to at least continue our learning,” she said.

The PUCL also found that in the aftermath of the hijab ban, students were forced to remove their hijab and enter college premises and such students who continued their education in the same colleges faced many challenges when they approached the authorities.

“Some faced suspensions and disciplinary action because of organising protests against the imposed ban. Many students who were forced to drop out or collect their Transfer Certificates before the end of the academic year, applied for transfers to minority institutes. Several students were forced to drop out of their studies altogether, due to inaccessibility to alternative paths towards higher education,” the report said.

However, the report does not throw light on the purported role of banned organisations like the Campus Front of India (CFI) and the Popular Front of India (PFI) on the hijab issue.

The PUCL has urged the state government to ensure that students’ rights are protected as mandated under Articles 15, 21, 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It also asked the government to compensate affected students.

Speaking to The Citizen, social and women's rights activist Syeda Saiyidain Hameed called the whole thing an orchestration of attacking the community. “The whole thing of regimenting the dress code is terrible. When you push people against the wall, they retaliate and that is what happened in this case,” she said, adding that many women do not wear hijab, but taking away the right of choice is wrong.

Meanwhile, the report further said that many students were denied the right to write their examinations, which in effect, cost the students’ families an entire year of college fees, thwarted the students’ learning opportunities, and adversely affected the students’ mental health.

The report pointed out that the compulsion to remove the hijab was an assault on the Right to Dignity in many instances. For most Muslim students, the act of forcing them to remove the hijab was insensitive and violent, especially when perpetuated by teachers, principals and examination centre officials.