Students protest in Kolkata as furor over hijab ban spreads in India

KOLKATA: The outrage and resentment over a ban on wearing hijab at schools in an Indian state are spreading, not just in India itself but abroad as well.

At least one Indian parliamentarian has objected to the ban as has a Nobel laureate. Pakistan’s foreign minister has also weighed in on the matter.

For their part, hundreds of students in Kolkata on Wednesday chanted slogans and blocked roads in protest against the ban.

MP Shashi Tharoor of Congress party said there is no law banning religious forms of dress in India. “(T)here is no law banning religious forms of dress like a Sikh turban or a crucifix around your neck or a tilak on the forehead, all of which are forbidden in France’s government schools but permitted in India’s,” he said in response to a question.

The row also drew in Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who asked Indian leaders in a tweet to “stop the marginalisation of Muslim women”.

FM Qureshi, Shashi Tharoor and Malala condemn decision

“Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying. Objectification of women persists for wearing less or more,” she said in a tweet late on Tuesday.

Local media reported last week that several schools in Karnataka had denied entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab citing an education ministry order, prompting protests from parents and students.

Hindu students mounted counter-protests, flocking to schools in recent days in support of the ban, forcing the Karnataka state government to shut schools and colleges for three days to ease tensions between the two communities.

The protesting students in Kolkata on Wednesday were predominantly women wearing hijabs, an eyewitness said, adding the demonstrations were without incident. The students said that they planned to reconvene on Thursday.

Protests have also been planned in New Delhi.

The government of Karnataka, where 12 per cent of the population is Muslim and which is ruled by Hindu nationalist BJP, has said in an order that students should follow dress codes set by schools.

India’s technology hub Bangalore banned protests around schools and other educational institutions for two weeks on Wednesday.

Pakistan’s stance

Criticising the ban, Fore­ign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said it was a grave violation of fundamental human rights and urged the international community to take notice of the situation.

“The world must realise that this is part of Indian state plan of ghettoisation of Muslims,” he said in response to an incident in Karnataka where a mob of Hindu extremists heckled a hijab-clad Muslim girl.

The minister said minority communities in India continued to suffer mistreatment, which was a matter of grave concern. India claimed to be a champion of secularism and democracy, while in fact Muslim citizens there were facing restrictions even over their attire.

Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, special representative to the prime minister on religious harmony and chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council, announced on Wednesday that Friday would be observed as a day of solidarity with “daughters of India”.