Karnataka Education Minister BC Nagesh on Wednesday said that the practice of wearing hijabs amounted to indiscipline and that schools and colleges were not a place to practice religion, NDTV reported.

A day after his statements, Muslim students of a government college in Udupi district, who were barred from wearing a hijab to class from January 1, have started a protest.

These students said that the college authorities are violating fundamental rights by not allowing them to wear hijab. The girls have also said that they feel uncomfortable around male lecturers without the hijab.

On Wednesday, a meeting between students, parents, government officials and the college management was held. But, it failed to solve the matter, India Today reported.

Subsequently, the college authorities issued an ultimatum to the students – adhere to the dress code to attend classes or wear a hijab and not enter the premises, NDTV reported.

MLA Ragupathi Bhat said that hijabs were never a part of the uniform, India Today reported. “We have written to the government regarding this and are awaiting their reply,” the MLA said.

Education Minister Nagesh on Wednesday said that rules for the dress code have been in force since 1985, according to NDTV.

He claimed that over 100 Muslim students were enrolled at the college, where the protests have erupted, but only a few did not want to follow the dress code.

The minister also said that students followed the dress code during the Congress government’s tenure in Karnataka.

“But now they have a problem?” he asked. “They want to practice constitutional rights now? Indiscipline cannot be a right.” Nagesh alleged that the protestors were politicising the matter ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections in Karnataka.

A student from the college, Aliya, said that besides not allowing them to wear the hijab, several discriminatory practices took place in the college.

“We can’t say ‘salaam’, can’t talk in Urdu even though it is a government college,” she said. “Other students are allowed to speak in Tulu... lecturers speak to us in Tulu. But we are not allowed to speak in Urdu.”

She also said that the senior students were allowed to wear hijab.