More than 1,000 democratic groups, academicians, lawyers and other professionals released an open letter on Thursday saying that the ban on wearing hijab in Karnataka’ educational institutions of is a “pretext to impose apartheid on and attack Muslim women”.

The signatories of the letter include activists Safoora Zargar, Kavita Krishnan, Radhika Vemula among others.

They pointed out that uniforms in educational institutions are meant to “minimise the differences between students of different and unequal economic classes”, and not to “impose cultural uniformity on a plural country”.

“This is why Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans not only in the classroom but even in the police and Army,” the letter read. “This is why Hindu students wear bindi/pottu/tilak/Vibhuti with school and college uniforms without comment or controversy.”

The letter said that Hindu supremacist groups in coastal Karnataka have been attacking “togetherness between Hindu and Muslim classmates, friends and lovers” since 2008.

“It must be remembered that such violence has been accompanied by equally violent attacks on Hindu women who visit pubs, wear ‘western’ clothes, or love/marry Muslim men,” the letter noted.

The signatories said that the ban imposed by the Karnataka government came close on the heels of Hindutva supremacists putting up Muslim women for “online auction” and making derogatory comments “calling for their sexual and reproductive enslavement”.

On February 5, the Karnataka government passed an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”.

The announcement was made following month-long protests from students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Kundapura town of Karnataka’s Udupi district, who were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in hijab.

While the students have moved the High Court against the state government’s decision, Hindu students and mobs of violent men have been protesting against women wearing hijabs to college at several places in Karnataka. Videos of men in saffron scarves heckling Muslim women and hoisting saffron flags in schools have gone viral on social media.