On Thursday, my friends and I were walking to Bhandarkars’ Arts & Science College, Kundapura, like any other day, when we were stopped on the road. A staff member wanted us to take off our hijabs. Only then would we be allowed to enter the college. We did not comply with his request and entered the college.
After this, we were stopped by our superintendent. He also ordered us to take off our hijabs. But we continued to our classroom.
All we wanted was to get to class. Even our college diary mentions that we can wear a scarf as long as it matches our dupatta. However, when we got to class, only a few of us were allowed inside. Some students from different streams, it seemed, had been told the previous night to not wear hijabs. But since we had not been informed, we were allowed to enter class.
An hour passed. The principal then announced that any kind of religious clothing was now banned in college. After this announcement, my friend – who also wears a hijab – and I were called to meet the head of the department, who again asked us to take off our hijabs. The department head said that she was also helpless in this situation and nothing could be done from their side. We could talk to the principal about this if we wished to.
So we then went to the principal. He said that he had received a letter as per which we cannot wear the hijab in college, since they want to ban all religious clothing inside the campus. When we asked him to show us the letter, he claimed that it is a government order. But he did not show it to us.
But if it was a government order, then what about other colleges in the state? This ban on religious clothing was being put in place only in a few colleges. I asked him about this frankly. He told us that we did not have any manners for talking back to him and asked us to get lost. We then left his office.
After this, arguments between lecturers and students over wearing the hijab to class continued. Soon the police were called in.
The principal then set up a meeting with the girls who wanted to wear the hijab. Here too the principal repeated that he was under pressure from higher authorities and was helpless. He suggested that we go back home and speak to our parents and authorities in our community about what could be done. But we should not protest on campus.
We were sent to the bus stop escorted by the police from where we went back home.
The next day, when we came to college, the gates were shut. We protested but were still not let inside. A few male students also joined us in support. After half an hour, the parents of two girls, and four boys went to talk to the principal. The principal spoke to the boys but did not meet the parents, even after making them wait for a couple of hours.
All this while, we were waiting at the college gate. The principal came out and repeated the same thing: he was helpless and we should go to the authorities.
Meanwhile, some boys from the Hindu community have also started wearing a saffron shawl and coming to the college since Thursday. They also have not been allowed to enter with the shawl. This is their solution to stopping us from wearing the hijab. But it is not right. We have been wearing this for years. But they just suddenly wore this, only as a mark of protest against us wearing the hijab on campus.
On Thursday, when the police came and asked them to take off the saffron shawls if they wanted entry to college, they did so immediately. But it is not that easy for us. We do not have a problem with them wearing what they want. But do not make us take off our hijabs. We do not feel complete without it.
I am 19 years old and have worn this my entire life. I have studied in this college for six months and wearing a hijab had never been an issue till now. I had read on social media the discrimination that Muslims in the country face but now I have experienced it for the first time. I was made to realise that I am a Muslim. Someone who dresses differently. I have never thought about these things before.
The support I have received from home has been comforting. Their support means that they continued to send me to college in spite of this controversy. In fact, my father accompanied me to college on Friday.
However, the college is forcing us to choose between studies and the hijab. I never expected this to happen in our college, even though a similar incident happened recently in PU College, Udupi.
It is horrible here, with the police and the boys in saffron shawls. Muslim girls feel unsafe on campus. We cannot go alone to college. We need someone to be there with us. There is no support from lecturers and the college administration. If they stood by us, we would feel safer. But they say they are also helpless in this.
This has also affected our health. We are not eating properly. I feel terrible. I cannot express my feelings. I am so young and at this age, I have to face this disgusting situation.
However, all this has only made my resolve stronger. I will not take off my hijab. I am even ready to quit studying here if nothing is left. But I will not quit just like that. I will struggle and I will fight.
As told to Umang Poddar by Al-Rifa, a first-year Bachelor of Computer Application student at Bhandarkars’ Arts & Science College, Kundapura, Karnataka.