A 24-year-old Muslim woman from Goa on Thursday claimed that officials conducting the National Eligibility Test did not allow her to write the paper when she refused to take off her hijab outside the examination centre in Panaji, PTI reported.
Safina Khan Soudagar, a writer who holds a postgraduate degree in psychology, said she queued up outside the exam centre at 1 pm on December 18. “When I reached the inspecting official, he looked at my documents, he looked at me and asked me to remove my head scarf, saying I will not be allowed inside the examination hall with it,” she said.
Soudagar told the official that removing the scarf would go against her religious beliefs. The official then asked Soudagar to show her ears to confirm her identity.
“I eventually agreed to show my ears and asked the officials to direct me to the washroom so I could readjust my hijab,” she said. “They refused to direct me towards the washroom. Removing hijab in public is against my Islamic belief because there were a lot of men around.”
Soudagar alleged that the officials then told her she would not be given entry to the exam hall with her hijab. “It was a question of whether I wanted to take the exam or not,” she said. “So I chose to keep my faith above the [academic] loss.”
Soudagar addressed a complaint to Goa Education Secretary Nila Mohanan in which she described the sequence of events, The Hindu reported. Soudagar said she will also write to Union Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar and approach the State Human Rights Commission, “so that such injustice does not affect other persons, irrespective of communities, in the future”.
Soudagar said there were no rules on the examination website or anywhere else regarding restrictions on the hijab or a particular dress code.
However, an unidentified official of the Directorate of Higher Education in Panaji said that no accessory is allowed in the exam centre in order “to prevent cheating and also from a security point of view”. A female candidate is also required to remove her “mangalsutra”, which is a sacred necklace worn by married Hindu women, said the official.
“There are stringent guidelines by the University Grants Commission to ensure that the examination is held in a very transparent manner and the officials were only following it,” he added.
The University Grants Commission conducts the exam to determine eligibility for college and university level lectureship and to award junior research fellowships.