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India’s hijab dispute reaches its most populous state

A dispute over restrictions on the wearing of the hijab by female students in a southern Indian state has now reached India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, with a group of youngsters asking a college to ban the head covering.

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Authorities closed colleges in Karnataka in India’s south last week after a new uniform policy barred students from wearing headscarves in classrooms, leading to protests by Muslim students and counter protests by Hindu students.

Muslims have criticised the ban as another way of marginalising a community that accounts for about 13% of Hindu-majority India’s 1.35 billion people.

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What actually happened?

In Uttar Pradesh, in the country’s north and bordering New Delhi, a group of more than two dozen young men reached the Dharma Samaj College in Aligarh district on Monday and handed a memorandum to its officials seeking a complete ban on the hijab within its compound.

They had saffron shawls around their necks – typically worn by Hindus – said the college’s chief proctor, Mukesh Bharadwaj, adding he did not recognise the people. Currently, religious garb is not allowed in classrooms but can be worn elsewhere on campus.

“Two years ago the same issue was raised and it has been raised again. We do not allow any type of religious uniform and we have a civil code of uniform for everyone,” Bharadwaj told Reuters by phone on Tuesday.

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A matter of grave importance

“There is a changing room for girls and they can change their dress there before attending class,” he said. “We are investigating the matter.”

Uttar Pradesh, estimated to have as many people as Brazil, is ruled by a Hindu monk from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and is in the midst of a multi-phase election that ends next month. Hindu-Muslim disputes are often used for political gains in the state.

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The hijab issue has already reached court in Karnataka. Hearings will resume on Tuesday on whether the hijab should be allowed in class.

 

Reuters with additional input by GVS