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‘Girls Forced to Choose Between Hijab or Education?’: Muslim Students in Mumbai College Protest Against Hijab Ban

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In recent years, Muslim girls wearing hijabs in schools have faced more discrimination under the guise of secularism. Instead of promoting equality, this targets their religious expression, violating their rights and affecting their education and personal lives.

After Karnataka, another case of Hijab ban has emerged from Acharya Marathe College in Chembur, Mumbai wherein via a WhatsApp forward it was announced to the students about a dress code notice implementing a ban on Hijab and related things, which is receiving widespread criticism.

Earlier this month, the college introduced a dress code that bans ‘revealing’ clothing and items with religious significance, specifically mentioning the hijab, niqab, and burqa worn by Muslim women.

This has upset many Muslim female students, who feel their personal and religious freedoms are being violated. On 13th May, 30 students submitted a letter to the college, asking it to reconsider the dress code.

Mehreen*, a student at Acharya Marathe says that on 1st May the students received a WhatsApp message on the official groups stating that a dress code will be implemented and no religious symbols will be allowed on the campus.

“On the result day, we spoke to the principal about the dress code notice. She clearly said if we had issues, we could leave, and she’d sign our transfer certificates. She even suggested we join the nearest Swami Vivekanand College. Most Muslim girls who wear hijabs and burqas are enrolled in the B.Sc. course, unlike in B.A. and B. Com”

Mehreen* said that many girls had to leave the college because their parents wouldn’t allow them to travel far for higher studies, forcing them to drop out.

“Two girls were crying, saying they’re already dealing with tough situations and their parents won’t send them anywhere else. The college didn’t think about how this order affects us”

When Mehreen* asked the principal about the hijab and burqa ban, explaining it was their choice, the principal said Muslim girls are forced to wear them.

“I offered that we will remove the burqa on campus but keep the hijab, but she refused. We later found out that Subodh Acharya, a Shiv Sena member, and part of the management were involved in this decision, not just the principal,” Mehreen* added.

A recent report by Free Press Journal stated that Acharya Marathe College in Chembur defended its decision to ban the hijab and burqa on campus. The college says this policy aims to improve campus placements and teach students proper etiquette.

“It’s about the students’ future. We want to boost placements. If students seek jobs in burqas, will they be considered? They need to learn societal values and etiquette,” said Subodh Acharya, general secretary of the college’s governing council and a Shiv Sena (UBT) leader.

The Observer Post reached out to Advocate Saif Alam the representative of the case who says, “A student has chosen me as their lawyer. Last year, I handled a similar case where we issued a notice to the junior college. We agreed that the girls would remove their burqas and hijabs while attending classes.”

Last August, the college had already stopped junior college students from wearing hijabs and burqas after introducing a uniform policy: shirts and trousers for boys, and salwar, kameez, and jackets for girls. After protests, the college allowed students to enter but required them to remove their coverings before attending classes, leading to several Muslim girls leaving the college.

“Now this year these people are implementing the same in the degree college. Currently, holidays are going on and this message from the college administration has developed fear among the girls. When we tried to reach out to the administration, they cited placement concerns as the reason for the ban. However, other colleges like Xavier and KC in Mumbai have no such restrictions. This decision is completely against Article 14(Equality before the law), Article 19(Freedom of speech, assembly, association, etc), Article 21(Right to life and personal liberty) and Article 25(Freedom of religion),” says Alam.

Alam mentions that the current case is different from Karnataka as under the State Education Policy of Karnataka there is a ban on hijab, however, under the Maharashtra State Education Policy, there is no ban on burqa and hijab.

As a degree college approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC), Acharya Marathe follows UGC rules. There’s no ban on burqas or hijabs. UGC guidelines even recommend arriving half an hour early for exams if wearing a burqa to facilitate the process.

“The Secretary of the Governing Council of this college is Subodh Acharya,” Advocate Saif Alam pointed out. “Subodh Acharya is the leader of Shiv Sena’s Uddhav faction. On one hand, Uddhav Thackeray is asking for votes from Muslims, and on the other hand, a leader of his own group is making such decisions.”

Ateeque Ahmed Khan, a city educator, shared the account: “The girls got a message in their official college WhatsApp group about a new dress code. It didn’t mention a uniform but specified not wearing niqab and hijab. When I approached the college principal, she affirmed the introduction of this dress code and suggested finding admission elsewhere if we wanted to wear hijab. She listed some colleges where hijab was allowed. I told the principal that look, it is a question of the right to choose, what the children will wear or not wear depends on their choice, to which the principal replied that it is our right to choose to make this rule”

The Observer Post contacted Acharya Marathe’s Principal Vidra Gauri who said, “I’m just implementing decisions here. The college’s governing body makes the rules, including this one. I’m just following orders.”

She further said, “We never said anything about banning only burqas or hijabs. The quotes attributed to me are wrong; my words are being twisted or misunderstood.”

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