Protest meet affirms women’s right to wear hijab

Protesters holding placards at the meeting (Facebook Photo)

Speakers at a protest meeting held in Auckland today (February 26, 2022) affirmed the rights of Muslim women to wear the Hijab and condemned the violence and the stir caused by incidents in India and New Zealand.

The protest meeting, held after a march to the office of the Honorary Consul of India in Onehunga in Auckland, featured women from the South Indian State of Karnataka where Muslim women have been the target of verbal and physical abuse.

Community Leader Anjum Rahman said that she attended the meeting in her personal capacity although keeping restricted movements due to the risks posed by the pandemic.

“I visited Bangalore as a teenager and found it a welcoming place. We had close family friends from Bangalore who were Hindu, and growing up with them in New Zealand, there was and is a lot of love and respect between us. This mirrored the experience of my parents who had grown up in an India where everyone was able to practice their faith, and this right was protected by the State,” she said.

Muslim women speak out for their rights in Auckland (Facebook Photo)

Right to practice faith

Ms Rahman said that the Auckland protest was about freedom, about protecting the freedoms and rights of Muslim women to practice their faith and to access education and every other service, just like every other citizen.

“They have the right to wear the Hijab, other faiths have the right to wear clothing that it is significant to them. In this country, adjustments are made to allow headwear in uniform colours by institutions, including educational establishments. Yet rights protected by the Indian Constitution are being denied not just to Muslim women but also to Sikh women.

“We stood today in solidarity with Dalits, farmers, academics, and journalists, along with Muslim women in India. They have the right to protest without violence, without family members being attacked and killed. The right to political dissent is another fundamental freedom that is at stake,” she said.

Among the other speakers at the protest meeting was Faria Begum from Hamilton, who said that Bengaluru is her City and India is her country.

The protest was a result of an incident that sparked widespread protest in the South Indian State of Karnataka and another, seemingly related incident at the Otago Girls’ High School based in Dunedin.

Following is an NDTV Report:

The Hijab Row in Karnataka

The Hijab row came to the fore on January 1, 2022, at Government PU College in Udupi, where six female students claimed that they were not allowed to enter classrooms wearing hijab. The students held a press conference, at which they said that permission was sought but College authorities refused to let them enter the classroom with their faces covered.

Muslim students demonstrating in India (PTI Photo)

They started a protest against college authorities, which soon snowballed into a State-wide issue. Reports of similar protests emerged from other towns in Karnataka. These protests and counter-demonstrations involving saffron scarves have since spread to other states.

Several videos of the protests emerged, which showed students of the two communities engaging in verbal spats. One such video from a college in Mandya showed a Muslim girl standing her ground as a large number of saffron scarf-wearing boys heckled her and shouted slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ She shouted back at them: ‘Allah hu Akbar!

Principal explains

Udupi College Principal Rudre Gowda said that students used to wear Hijab to the campus and entered the classroom after removing the scarves.

“The institution did not have any rule on Hijab-wearing as such and since no one used to wear it to the classroom in the last 35 years. The students who came with the demand had the backing of outside forces,” Gowda said.

Several petitions were filed in the Karnataka High Court on January 31 in which Muslim students sought the right to wear Hijabs in classrooms under Articles 14, 19 and 25 of the Constitution of India. The court heard it for the first time on February 8, 2022.

The High Court, in its interim order pending consideration of all such petitions, restrained all the students from wearing saffron shawls, scarves, hijab and any religious flag within the classroom.

Another member of the community at the meeting
(Facebook Photo)

Government justifies ban

The Karnataka government justified the ban on Hijab inside classrooms under its 1983 Education Act. In a February 5, 2022 Order, it said that under Section 133 of the Act, the government reserves the right to issue appropriate directions to schools and colleges to ensure maintenance of public order.

It further said that in Colleges that fall under the Karnataka Board of Pre-University Education, the dress code prescribed by the College Development Committee or the administrative supervisory committee must be followed. If the administration does not fix a dress code, clothes that do not threaten equality, unity, and public order must be worn.

The state government said that the Hijab row persists only in eight high schools and pre-university colleges of the total 75,000 such institutions in the state. The government has expressed confidence in resolving the issue.

In an attempt to calm tensions, the Karnataka government temporarily closed schools last week but ordered their gradual reopening this week.

And the following is from Radio New Zealand:

An Otago schoolgirl ended up in hospital with a concussion after three other pupils ripped her hijab off and beat her. Hoda Al-Jamaa, 17, was sitting with her friends at Otago Girls’ High School when three other girls asked them how to swear in Arabic and started taunting them.

The incident occurred on February 8, 2022.

The situation escalated and Hoda’s Hijab was ripped off and was hit while others filmed her.

“Two of the girls held me and one hit me and after I fell on the ground, she… was still hitting my face and my body. I was waiting for the teacher to help me,” Hoda said.

The girls then took her Hijab off and continued filming her and the video has now been shared with boys and girls around the school.

“My Hijab is my culture and my religion. I love my hijab and those other girls love their Hijabs.”

The attackers tried to do the same to Hoda’s two other friends.

Hoda said that she was hit in the head so much she had to go to the hospital for a concussion, which now makes learning very hard, although she was very hesitant to go back to school.

It was not the first violent attack she had been involved in and she frequently had the fingers pulled at her and called a terrorist by other students, she said.

Otago Muslim Association Chairman Mohammed Rizwan is happy that the Police are taking the assault seriously.

He said that the attack was ‘appalling and brutal and that to have the Hijab removed in this manner is a huge dishonour for the young woman involved,’ and that many people still misunderstand Muslims and or feel threatened by them.

“We are just normal people like everyone else but a people of faith.”

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