Karnataka govt’s ominous silence at the communal mobilisation of students

Saffron scarfs have been supplied to groups of students who are marching, in protest of the hijab worn by their Muslim peers

Hindu students

Saffron scarves have been distributed in various Karnataka junior colleges (also called pre university colleges as they are the equivalent of high school) for students to wear when they protest against their Muslim girl classmates who wish to wear the hijab. This may be the first time that hordes of teenage students have been mobilised to protest against their own peers, with whom they may have studied peacefully till now.

The saffron scarf wearing groups have been marching, and gathering on busy city streets in various parts of Karnataka, show social media posts. In some places Police personnel dispersed groups of saffron-clad ‘protestors’ who gathered and raised slogans. The boys and girls marched to their college/ high schools wearing saffron scarves as videos from Kundapur in the Udupi district showed. The bright new identical scarves were draped over their college uniforms and some raised slogans of “Jai Shri Ram (praise Lord Ram) ” while going to college. Protests were reported from Hassan as well.



Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra told the media that students should “neither wear the hijab nor saffron scarves” in school, and that “schools are the place where children belonging to all religions should learn together and imbibe a feeling that we are not different, and all are children of Bharat Mata.” He added that “There are religious organisations who think otherwise, I have asked the police to keep a watch on them. Those who cause hindrance or undermine this country’s unity, they have to be dealt with,” reported NDTV. While in the PU Girls College in Udupi, where the controversy was at its height, students there are still fighting to be allowed to sit in class wearing a hijab, stated news reports. There was a similar Saffron scarf protest at IDSG college in BJP general secretary CT Ravi’s home district of Chikkamagaluru.



Meanwhile, while the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) that governs the state, has not yet questioned who is mobilising the students and supplying these scarves as if to identify the students as a part of the right wing ecosystem, politicians have added communal comments on the issue” The BJP MLA Yatnal reported said that in his opinion, “they must shut down Madrassas, urdu schools in #Karnataka. Learn #Kannada if you want to stay. Otherwise go to Pakistan,what work you have here?You want Urdu, #hijabs & want to practice #Islam #MahatmaGandhi has given it (#Pakistan), please go”.



All this is peaking on a day many celebrate Saraswati Puja, to honour the Hindu deity of learning. Congress leader Rahul  Gandhi, said that if educational institutions do not to allow wearing the hijab in the classroom, “by letting students’ hijab come in the way of their education, we are robbing the future of the daughters of India. Ma Saraswati gives knowledge to all. She doesn’t differentiate”. Karnataka unit of BJP however attacked Gandhi for his comment, “By communalising education, Congress co-owner Rahul Gandhi has once again proved that he is dangerous to the future of India. If hijab is very much essential to get educated, why doesn’t Rahul Gandhi make it mandatory in states ruled by Congress?” it tweeted.

According to social media handle Hate watch Karnataka, the protests are intensifying on both sides of the Hijab debate with hashtags such as “HijabisOurRight” and “saffronshawls”  trending as well.



On February 3, 2022  Kundapura’s Muslim girl students sat in protests outside their pre-University college to assert their right to wear a hijab on campus. Male students also joined this protest that decries the administration’s sudden decision to ban wearing of the hijab on campus shortly after protests by a right-wing students group. Rights groups and Islamic groups have spoken out in support of these girls who opposed the college’s decision to take away their choice to wear a hijab. The People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL)’s Karnataka Chapter cited the violation of basic fundamental rights like the right to equality and right to a dignified life aside from the constitutional freedom to practise any religion of choice. Similarly, the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) condemned the government college’s “inhuman attitude” in closing the gate in the face of students wearing hijab.

A stage of the Pyramid of Hate

This phenomenon of pitting students against each other based on clothes they wear, is yet another stage  of the Pyramid of Hate, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) Secretary, educationist and human rights defender Teesta Setalvad has explained how minute biases and prejudices like looking down on one’s appearance, their mannerisms, how one chooses to pray, has the capacity to consume us within a society. “It is these bias attitudes of stereotyping, insensitive remarks, fear of differences, non-inclusive language, micro aggressions justifying biases by seeking out like-minded people, that takes shape in the form of hate,”said Setalvad. This prejudiced attitude is the first stage in the pyramid of hate that leads to “discrimination, where certain communities are subject to harassment, bullying, exclusion in housing, employment, education issues, based on their race, sexual orientation, caste, class, religion etc.”



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