Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra on Wednesday claimed that a statement by Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri on the protests in the state against the hijab ban showed that there were “unseen hands” behind the agitation, PTI reported.

The state home minister was commenting on a video by Zawahiri released on Tuesday, in which he made extensive references to protests by Muslims in Karnataka seeking the right to wear the hijab. In the video, the Al-Qaeda chief had praised a student who shouted slogans of “Allah-hu-Akbar” after being heckled with chants of “Jai Shri Ram” by a Hindu mob outside a college in the Mandya district on February 8, according to The Indian Express.

This was at a time when Hindu students were protesting against wearing of hijab by students in educational institutions in Karnataka.

The incident was captured on camera and was subsequently shared widely on social media.

However, after Zawahiri’s video was released, the student’s family distanced itself from the claims.

The student’s father Mohammad Hussain Khan on Wednesday said that Zawahiri’s comments were wrong, PTI. He added that the matter had disturbed his family and asked the police and the state administration to initiate an inquiry.

“We don’t know anything about it [video], we don’t know who he is,” he said. “I saw him today for the first time. He said something in Arabic… We are all living here with love and trust like brothers.”

He added that the statement had caused unnecessary trouble.

“We are living peacefully in our country, we don’t want him to talk about us, as he is not related to us... it is wrong, it is an attempt to create division among us,” he said.

State Home Minister Jnanendra on Wednesday said that the police will look into the alleged link between the terrorist outfit and the protests that were held at many places in the state in February.

He also said that the Karnataka High Court had also suggested the possibility of “unseen hands behind the hijab row”.

The High Court, in its judgement on March 15, had said that the way the matter unfolded gave scope to the claim that “unseen hands” were at work to engineer social unrest and disharmony. However, the judgement had not made any reference to the possibility of terrorist groups inciting protests against the ban on hijabs in educational institutions.

In February, the state police had filed cases against several students in Karnataka for participating in protests against the ban despite prohibitory orders. However, the police have not alleged the involvement of foreign terrorist organisations, including Al-Qaeda, in the protests.

Meanwhile, Karnataka Higher Education Minister CN Ashwath Narayan also condemned Zawahiri’s statement and added that “action will be taken against organisations and people linked to them”, according to PTI.

Hijab ban

In December, a group of Muslim girl students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Udupi city were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in hijab. The students staged a protest and similar demonstrations were held in other parts of the state too.

On February 5, the Karnataka government passed an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. Protests broke out in many parts of the state against the order, and some students moved the High Court against the ban.

For several weeks in February, Hindu students and mobs of men protested against Muslim women wearing hijabs to educational institutes at several places in Karnataka. At some colleges, Muslim students were heckled, while in another case, some men climbed up a flagpole to plant a saffron flag and broke into classrooms.

On March 15, the High Court upheld the ban, ruling that hijab is not essential to Islam.