On December 6, a young Muslim student was reportedly barred from entering an examination centre since she did not remove her hijab. According to Maktoob Media’s report, the 24-year-old Muslim female student named Uzma Yusuf, has reportedly stated that the staff administering University Grants Commission-National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) at the UNO Private Limited in Patna, Bihar prevented her from sitting for the exam.
The National Eligibility Test (NET) is an examination conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the National Testing Agency (NTA) for granting eligibility for the lecturers and research fellows at Indian colleges and universities.
Speaking to Maktoob, Yusuf claims to have arrived on time and well-prepared for the examination and furthermore, that she followed all UGC rules and guidelines. However, she alleges that teachers and supervisors at the centre denied her the opportunity to take the test, insisting that she remove her hijab, a religious headscarf worn by Muslim women.
Speaking to Maktoob, Yusuf stated that she had thoroughly reviewed the UGC’s website and the instructions on her admit card before reaching the examination centre and pointed out that nowhere did it state that observing hijab during the examination is prohibited, and instead there are instructions that those who wear religious headgear need to come early to the examination centre, “Nowhere does it state that observing hijab during the examination is prohibited. However, it did specify that individuals wearing religious markers/attire should arrive early for a comprehensive screening and checking process.”
Yusuf says that she was granted entry after being checked by a female guard, but however, a male teacher arrived and told her to remove the hijab before taking the test. According to the report, the male teacher was an official from the National Testing Agency (NTA). Yusuf said she tried to reason out and state the existing provisions for students with similar concerns in the guidelines, but she was not heard of. According to Maktoob, “I even tried to convince the officer, providing an example of how passport offices allow wearing hijab, even with screened ears for biometrics. However, he didn’t listen. I faced the dilemma of choosing between my religion and academic setback, and I opted for my faith over potential academic loss.” Yusuf further states that nobody was removed from the examination centre for a turban and believes that she was targeted due to her religion.
This is not the first instance of Muslim women students being denied entry to examination centres and classrooms for wearing the hijab. In 2018, the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) issued a notice to the University Grants Commission asking for an explanation after a student wearing a hijab was similarly denied the opportunity to write the UGC-NET exam. Similarly, on a much larger scale, women school students in Karnataka from the Muslim community were denied the right to enter schools because they wore the hijab in 2021. According to a report by Sabrang India, this incident led to about 1,010 hijab-wearing girls to discontinue their education in pre-university colleges in Karnataka, The timing of the ban had also coincided with final examinations which further worsened the situation for these students. These instances of discrimination thus fall into a pattern of the challenges faced by the Muslim minority. For instance, it was noted this year that there was a staggering 8% decline in the enrolment of Muslim students in higher education, which led to a decrease in 1,79,147 students.