The Muslim women students in Udupi and other parts of Karnataka who are being kept out of their educational institutions because they were hijabs cannot be denied an education, said the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in a press release on Monday.

However, Muslim women must question the imposition of scarf or hijab that has accompanied the rise of the Wahabi version of Islam, the statement said. “Religious symbols in public life must not be encouraged by Hindus, Muslims, Christians alike,” it concluded.

Here is the full text of the statement:

We are seeing disturbing reports about teenager Muslim girls in hijab being denied entry into classrooms by a few educational institutes in Udupi and other places in Karnataka. The college authorities insist that students must comply with the uniform which doesn’t permit hijab in classroom.

The girls in hijab have been staging a democratic protest outside the campus, defending their Right to Education as well as their right to wear hijab. The Constitution grants Right to Religious Freedom as well as Right to Education to all Indians. The girls cannot be denied education because they choose to wear hijab.

In a religiously polarised climate, it is not surprising that the issue has got politicised with ministers jumping into the fray. While the college authorities are free to decide their own rules, they cannot be violative of fundamental rights granted by the Constitution.

The singling out of Muslim girls must stop immediately and the girls must be allowed to exercise their right to education without any hindrance.

We believe that hijab is a patriarchal imposition as much as ghungat or sindoor or bindi or other diktats being imposed on girls in our country across different faith communities.

There is ample evidence put out by Muslim feminist scholars such as Fatima Mernissi, Asma Lamrabet and others highlighting the patriarchal origins of the veil in Islam. They have studied the occurrence of the Arabic word “sitr” in the religious texts and its various meanings ranging from curtain to physical barrier to simple cover depending on the context.

They have also counted that at most times it [sitr or covering] applied to males in various social situations and milieu. They have established how over centuries of male-dominated social order across Muslim societies, the sitr or covering came to be exclusively applied to women leading to today’s understanding. It illustrates how patriarchy systematically distorts religious teachings and constructs myths leading to norms that confine women.

We see that increasingly more and more young Muslim girls and even small girl children made to wear the scarf. This did not exist a few decades back. Our grandmothers never wore it. As Muslim women we need to also question this imposition of scarf/hijab which came in with the rise of Wahabi version of Islam. Educational institutions run by Muslim trusts have institutionalised it by making it a part of the school uniform.

If it is really a matter of choice, which we must respect, the early imposition of it from childhood must stop. Let an adult women decide how much of herself she wants to hide. Muslim parents must also realise how conservatism in one community becomes a reason for oppression in the hands of majoritarian fundamentalism.

The parents would not permit the girls to go to college without hijab and the authorities would deny them entry because of hijab. In either case, girls’ education is bound to suffer.

Although the question of social reform in Muslim societies is of utmost importance, the current discrimination in the name of hijab is outright violation of constitutional principles of equality and justice.

Right to Religious Freedom is as much a tenet of our democracy as is secularism. Singling out hijab for criticism is unfair and discriminatory. Those opposing it are on record decrying secularism and for openly espousing majoritarianism. They are resorting to hate and divisive politics by instigating students to wear saffron scarves to counter the girls in hijab.

This gross instrumentalisation of young students to spread division in society must stop immediately.

We urge common Hindus and Muslims to begin questioning the harm being caused in the name of religion. We believe that it is important to keep religion in the private realm to safeguard our plural multi-cultural multi-faith democracy. It is important to abide by the essential practices’ principle and leave religion inside homes and away from public spaces.

We must question the divisive politics being played out in the name of religion instead of indulging in extreme binaries for or against religious symbols in public. Religious symbols in public life must not be encouraged by Hindus, Muslims, Christians alike.