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Are Girls Forced to Choose Between Education or Hijab?: Muslim College Students in Mumbai Oppose Hijab Ban

– Yusra Firdaus

18 May 2024: Muslim girls wearing hijabs in schools have faced increased discrimination under the guise of secularism. This violates human rights, targets their religious freedom, and affects their personal and educational lives rather than promoting equality.

Acharya Marathe College in Chembur, Mumbai, recently banned hijab. The students received a dress code notice via WhatsApp, prohibiting hijabs and similar items. This announcement has sparked criticism.

The college’s dress code forbids “revealing” clothing and religious items like the burqa, niqab, and hijab. Muslim female students feel their freedoms are being violated. Thirty students wrote to the college on May 13 to request a review of the dress code.

Mehreen, a B.Sc. student, reported that on May 1st, students were notified of the dress code via WhatsApp. On result day, they discussed the notice with the principal, who suggested they could leave if they had issues and offered to sign transfer certificates. She even recommended Swami Vivekanand College.

Mehreen said many girls had to drop out because their parents wouldn’t let them travel far for education. “Two girls were crying, saying their parents wouldn’t send them elsewhere. The college didn’t consider how this affects us,” she added.

When asked about the ban, the principal claimed Muslim girls are forced to wear the hijab and burqa. Mehreen offered to remove the burqa but keep the hijab, but this was refused. She later learned that Subodh Acharya, a Shiv Sena member, was involved in the decision.

Acharya Marathe College defended its hijab ban. The college claimed the policy aims to improve student manners and enhance campus placements. “It’s about the student’s future. If students seek jobs in burqas, will they be considered? They need to learn societal values and etiquette,” said Subodh Acharya, general secretary of the college’s governing council.

Advocate Saif Alam, representing the case, said, “A student chose me as their lawyer. Last year, I handled a similar case where we agreed the girls would remove their burqas and hijabs during classes.”

The college implemented a uniform policy last August, prohibiting junior college students from wearing burqas and hijabs. Boys were to wear shirts and pants, and girls salwar kameez and jackets. After protests, the college allowed students in but made them remove headscarves before classes, causing several Muslim girls to leave.

“This year, the same policy is being implemented in the degree college. Holidays are ongoing, and the message has created fear among the girls. When we contacted the administration, they cited placement concerns for the ban. However, other colleges like Xavier and KC in Mumbai have no such restrictions. This decision violates Articles 14, 19, 21, and 25 of the Constitution,” Alam added.

Alam noted that Maharashtra’s State Education Policy does not ban the burqa or hijab, unlike Karnataka’s. Acharya Marathe, under UGC regulations as a degree college, does not prohibit hijabs and burqas. UGC guidelines even suggest arriving 30 minutes early for exams if wearing a burqa.

“The Secretary of the Governing Council is Subodh Acharya,” Alam pointed out. “He is a leader of Shiv Sena’s Uddhav faction. Uddhav Thackeray seeks Muslim votes, but a leader from his group makes such decisions.”

City educator Ateeque Ahmed Khan shared: “The girls received a message in their official college WhatsApp group about a new dress code banning niqab and hijab. When I approached the principal, she confirmed the dress code and suggested finding another college if we wanted to wear hijabs. I told her it’s about the right to choose, but she replied it’s their right to make the rule.”

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