Hijab Ban: Education for Muslim Girls in India Becomes a Distant Dream

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Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Two reports, released on Monday as India celebrated the birth anniversary of its first Muslim woman educator and teacher Amma Fatima Sheikh, have highlighted the failure of the Karnataka government, the country’s education department and the judicial system in ensuring equal educational opportunities to girls and protection of the rights of Muslim women students.

A report from the Karnataka chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) detailed the adverse impact of the hijab ban on educational institutions. It also highlighted the abject failure of the state government in ensuring the right to education and protecting the dignity and privacy of Muslim women students.

The report titled, “Closing the Gate to Education: Violations of Rights of Muslim Women Students in Karnataka’s Educational Institutions” is based on the testimonies of Muslim women students who are affected by the hijab ban in the state.

The report explains the failure of the college and police administration to protect the right to education of Muslim women. It also highlighted the role of right-wing vigilante groups and how they were enjoying impunity when the state apparatus fails to take the right action at the right time.

Another report based on the research done by Indian Express highlights a 50 per cent drop in the enrollment of Muslim girl students in government colleges in Udupi, Karnataka, due to the hijab ban.

The Indian Express report finds a drastic shift wherein Muslim girls have abandoned government institutions to join private pre-university colleges (PUCs).

Data accessed by Indian Express show that a total of 1,296 children enrolled in Class XI (also known as PUC in Karnataka) during the year 2021-22. In 2022-23 the number was 1,320.

A total of 388 Muslim students were enrolled in Class XI in 2021-22 in government colleges out of which only 91 were girls whereas the number now has decreased to 186 in 2022-23.

“The enrollment of Muslim girls in our college has almost doubled for the first time. This is a testament to how the hijab issue has impacted them personally and academically,” the Indian Express report quoted Aslam Haikady, administrator of the Saliath Group of Education, as saying.

Nabeela Jamil, a law practitioner in the Supreme Court, called the reports “alarming” and “unfortunate.”

She said, “The reports very aptly substantiate that the hijab ban is very contradictory to the spirit of the constitution. It is barring a lot of Muslim women from exercising their right to education.”

It is also very unfortunate, she said, that even after about a year “no stay or any substantial order has been delivered by the judiciary, especially when the education of thousands of Muslim women is at stake.”

She stressed that everybody except these Muslim girls in Karnataka can very conveniently use religious markers like “a turban” “a bindi” or “a sari’”. But when it comes to Muslim girls, they are very deliberately being singled out, and this is being done very strategically.

“Karnataka hijab order and stance of the judiciary on such matters will be seen as a precedent that will give impunity to right-wing groups and this can further spread to other states as well. This is very discriminatory and threatening to Muslim women,” she added.

“The repercussions are going to be bad if the hijab ban is implemented in other states as well,” the lawyer cautioned.

Sajid Bukhari, a law graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, said: “Those who could afford private colleges have joined them but those who can’t, will be further pushed towards vulnerability.”

“Yesterday we were celebrating the birth anniversary of India’s first female Muslim teacher and remembering her contribution towards education and how shameful it is that women from her own community are being deprived of education in the 21st century,” he said.

The right-wing, he said, is “up in arms when it comes to the education of women in Afghanistan but sadly they are barring their women from getting educated. This shows the level of religious intolerance.”

A 15-year-old girl from Uttar Pradesh, Alfia Khan, who recently started donning hijab after understanding its real purpose, started crying as she got to know of the ban imposed by the Karnataka government. “Will they do this to us as well? Will they not allow us to attend school as they did to our sisters in Karnataka?” she asked her father sobbing uncontrollably.

Ismail Khan, her father, said: “Alfia is a very studious girl. She never skips school and when she got to know of the entire hijab ban issue, she started crying.”

“She gets her religious teachings from her mother, and has recently started observing hijab and says that she will never want to lose either of her education, be it religious or institutional,” he said.

“What the state is doing to curb religious freedom in India is very disheartening. Being so young, such incidents affect her (Alfia) a lot and so do those school-going hijab-wearing Muslim girls in Karnataka. How will they get institutional education?”

Khan, who works for a stationery shop in Aligarh district, said that if anything like the hijab ban happens in Uttar Pradesh, he won’t be able to send her daughter to private school. “I cannot afford it. But I and my daughter are not going to give up our religious practices and faith.”

He added that the government does not want Muslims to get educated.

For many like Alfia, getting decent education will remain a dream. “Even in the 21st century, they have to struggle for something as basic and necessary as education, because the establishment in India has put curbs on religious freedom and is out to persecute Muslims,” Khan said.

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