Students in India have extended their support to female Muslim students in the southern state of Karnataka, amid a deepening row over wearing Islamic headscarves in schools.
In the eastern city of Kolkata on Wednesday, students blocked roads in a public display of anger at a ban on hijab in the state. Similarly in Hyderabad, students took to the streets.
In one incident in a video widely shared online, a lone Muslim student wearing hijab is surrounded by male Hindu youths shouting religious slogans while trying to enter her school in Karnataka.
Malala Yousafzai has also joined the campaign against the ban on hijab. She is the campaigner for girls’ education and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who survived being shot at age 15 by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan in 2012. Yousafzai asked Indian authorities to “stop the marginalization of Muslim women.”
Last week, local media reported that several schools in Karnataka had denied entry to Muslim girls wearing hijab, citing an education ministry order.
Karnataka’s chief minister Basavaraj Bommai announced on Tuesday that all high schools in the state would be closed for three days. He also appealed for calm.
Female Muslim students say wearing hijab is a fundamental right to religion guaranteed by the constitution.
Meanwhile, Karnataka’s top court began hearing a petition challenging the legality of the ban on Tuesday. The next day, Justice Krishna Dixit, who was hearing two petitions filed on behalf of the female Muslim protesters, said the matter should be referred to a larger bench.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governs Karnataka, where 12% of the population is Muslim. The ban has galvanized fears among the Muslim community about what they say is increasing persecution under the Hindu nationalist government.
Opposition parties accuse the BJP government at federal and state levels of discriminating against religious minorities. Critics say Modi’s election in 2014 emboldened hardline extremist groups that view India as a ‘Hindu nation’ and consider its 200-million-strong Muslim minority as a foreign threat.
Muslims across India complain of falling victim to government-sanctioned harassment and hate crimes by extremist Hindu elements as well as regulatory policies of a discriminatory nature.