On Wednesday, August 2, protests were staged outside the NG Acharya & DK Marathe College in Mumbai’s Chembur against the college’s uniform policy. The protests started after security guards outside the college gates barred entry to Burqa-clad girls as they failed to comply with the college’s rules pertaining to the uniform. The parents of such girls were also present during the protests. Reportedly, the college later stepped back and allowed the girls to enter the college.
After police officers arrived and negotiated with the parents and college officials, the situation was placated. By evening, the college issued a statement outlining some specific guidelines to be followed concerning the dress code.
The photos and videos of the incident went viral on social media. A large gathering of Burqa-clad students and their parents gathered outside the campus, as seen in one of the videos from the protest site.
मुम्बई,चेंबूर के N.G.Acharya and Marathe College में ज्नुनियर स्टूडेंट्स को हिजाब में गेट के अंदर नहीं आने दिया.स्टूडंट्स का कहना है की उन्हें काॅलेज में बुरखा उतारने की इजाज़त नहीं दी गई बलके गेट के बाहर सडक पर बुरखा उतारने के लिये कहा गया.अब तालीम खाने ज़ालिम खाने बनते जाएंगे. pic.twitter.com/VxCjU3k6PD
— Dr.Arshiya Kauser Mohammed Habib (@OfficeOf2ruth) August 2, 2023
While speaking about the incident, College Principal Vidya Gauri Lele stated that the college had recently implemented a dress code this year and that the rules had been communicated to the parents well in advance.
“We held a meeting with parents on the 1st of May to go through this new dress code policy. Everything, including the prohibition on the burqa, the hijab, scarves, and stickers, had been announced. Everyone had agreed to the dress code at the time. However, they are currently protesting,” she stated, adding that if any girl is opposed to the dress code she is free to leave the college.
The Muslim girl students of the college claimed that they feel uncomfortable in leaving the house without donning a burqa or hijab because it is an obligation for them. They reportedly asked for permission to put on scarves.
In a statement later that evening, the college authorities said that in consideration of the safety and dignity of the protesting girl students, they will be permitted to enter the college wearing a burqa, hijab, or scarf. However, the principal specified that they will be required to remove it in the washroom before entering the classroom and may wear it again while leaving the classroom in the evening.
OpIndia talks to the principal
OpIndia talked to Principal Vidya Gauri Lele on the issue, who reiterated that the uniform code was communicated to the students well in advance, which included ban on various items like hijab, fancy bags, stickers, caps etc. She said, “We had implemented uniforms for students of 11th and 12th standard which fall under school education. The parents were informed about this in a meeting which was held in this regard on 1st May 2023. They were informed that fancy bags, stickers, hijab, topi is not to be worn and only the uniform prescribed by the school must be worn. Because it is a school, it is not a college. Some junior colleges in Maharashtra are run alongside senior colleges. But junior colleges still come under school education. In all other states, junior colleges are associated with schools. In Maharashtra, the provision is for both ways.”
When asked specifically whether the students can wear a burqa, the principal confirmed that it is not allowed. “They cannot wear burqas inside the college because we have already implemented a uniform. After they enter the college, they can go to the washroom and take off all that is not mentioned as part of uniform, wear their uniform and then they can go around anywhere in the college,” she said.
Responding to the query on the students being asked to remove the burqa outside the college gate, Vidya Gauri Lele said, “Yes, earlier it was said to remove their burqas before entering the college. And after that, we altered it a little (by allowing them to change inside the college). We do not have enough staff to keep a check if students change into the prescribed uniform after entering college or not. So who will monitor all this? This is a simple matter related to uniform and nothing more. The uniform has been introduced so that no one is able to discriminate on the basis of caste, religion, and class. So that all students have an equal standing.”
She added, “And the uniform for girls has been prescribed by making their modesty a priority. They have been prescribed a salwar kameez and jacket. We have fixed a vendor who supplies these and all students have bought it. Only a few are left.”
It is worth recalling that a similar ban on hijab in colleges in Karnataka sparked a controversy last year that went all the way to the Supreme Court and triggered protests across the country.
Karnataka Hijab Controversy
The hijab controversy in Karnataka gained traction in the first week of January last year when eight Muslim girls were denied entry to classes at a Udupi college as they wore hijabs. The college authorities had informed that the hijab was not a part of the uniform dress code mandated for the students.
The Muslim girls, who were adamant about wearing hijab, subsequently petitioned the High Court to be allowed to attend classes while wearing hijab. They claimed that donning the Hijab was both a “integral practice of Islam” and their “fundamental right” guaranteed by Articles 14 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.
As Hindu students in Karnataka protested against Muslim girls continuing to wear the hijab to college by donning saffron scarves around their necks, the dispute intensified. In Udupi, Shivamogga, Bagalkote, and other areas, tensions persisted at some educational institutions as reports of stone-pelting and violence came in from different regions of the state.
According to prior reports, after meeting the Campus Front of India (CFI), the student arm of the now-banned Islamist group Popular Front of India (PFI), in October 2021, the students started wearing the hijab to colleges and schools. The students admitted that they were in contact with the CFI.