India’s Karnataka state reopens some schools in wake of hijab dispute

A state in southern India reopened some schools on Monday that had been closed following protests last week over female students not being allowed to wear hijabs in class.

The issue, widely seen by India’s Muslim minority community as a bid to sideline it by authorities in a Hindu-dominated nation, comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepares for elections in key states.

Police stood guard as students in pink uniforms, about a dozen wearing hijabs, entered a government girl’s school where the issue first flared in Karnataka state’s district of Udupi, about 400 kilometers from the tech hub of Bengaluru.

Authorities have banned gatherings of more than five people within 200 meters of educational institutions in the area, which have begun classes from primary to high school, although higher grades and colleges are still shut.

The move came after a state court, which has set a hearing of the matter for Monday, told students not to wear any religious clothing, ranging from saffron shawls to scarves or hijabs, in classrooms until further orders.

“Whether wearing of hijab in the classroom is a part of essential religious practice of Islam in the light of constitutional guarantees needs a deeper examination,” the court said in an interim order last week.

The issue was spotlighted following protests last week after some schools refused entry to students wearing the garments, deemed to have fallen foul of a February 5 order on uniforms by the state, which is ruled by Modi’s BJP.

The party derives its support mainly from the majority Hindu community, which forms about 80 percent of India’s population of roughly 1.4 billion, while Muslims account for about 13pc.

Ayesha Imtiaz, a student in Udupi, said it was humiliating to be asked to take off the hijab before class.

She felt her “religion had been questioned and insulted by a place which I had considered as a temple of education”, she told Reuters on the weekend.

An official in the coastal district of Udupi, Pradeep Kurudekar S, told reporters authorities would wait for further orders from the court or the government to resume all classes.

The issue prompted expressions of support for Muslim girls and women from the US government and Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Iranian interior minister arrives in Pakistan on a day-long visit

Iranian Interior Minister Dr. Ahmad Vahidi arrived in Islamabad on Monday on a day-long visit, where he was received by his Pakistani counterpart, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

Dr. Vahidi’s arrival follows the visit of Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef to the country last week.

The nine-member Iranian delegation was received by the interior minister and other senior ranking officials, according to Radio Pakistan.

According to a brief statement issued by the Ministry of Interior, during his day-long visit, the Iranian minister will hold meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and other government functionaries.

During his meetings, the statement said, Dr. Vahidi and Pakistani officials will discuss issues related to Pak-Iran border management and the exchange of prisoners.

In October last year, both the countries had agreed to form a special committee for effective implementation on an agreement for the exchange of prisoners.

The agreement was finalized in a meeting between Ahmed representing Pakistan and members of the Iran-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Group in Majlis (Iranian Parliament).

Both sides had also discussed suggestions to overcome terrorism and human trafficking and vowed to keep their efforts continue for the formation of stable Afghanistan.