Karnataka: As Class 10 Board Exams Begin, Hijab-Clad Students Forced to Change

New Delhi: Following the Karnataka high court’s decision to uphold the state government’s ban on hijabs in educational institutions, Secondary School Leaving Certificate exams (SSLC; or class 10 board exams) began in the state on Monday, March 28 and reports of students being turned away from exam centres for appearing in hijabs have begun to surface.

In Hubballi district, one Muslim girl student appeared for the exam dressed in a burkha and was turned away. She was eventually allowed to appear for her papers, however, only after she changed into her school uniform.

“She had come for her exams in civil dress,” NDTV quoted Dharwad Mohan Kumar, a senior official in the Karnataka government, as saying. “She did not follow the uniform dress code and was wearing burkha. We convinced her that she has to follow the high court order. She changed and she is taking her exams now.”

Another student in the state’s Bagalkot district, too, appeared for her exams in a burkha, however, when asked to change out of her burkha, she decided not to take the exam. 

A student has cameras thrust in her face as she arrives for her SSLC exam at a centre in Bengaluru wearing a hijab on March 28. Photo: PTI.

News agency PTI had reported that after the high court’s verdict was announced, some Muslim girl students had expressed their desire to “boycott” the exams in protest.

On March 15, the Karnataka high court had ruled that the wearing of hijabs did not constitute ‘essential religious practice’ in Islam and thus upheld a February 5 government order (GO) which banned wearing clothes which “disturb equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges.”

Also read: Karnataka Govt Will Not Hold Re-Exams for Students Who Were Absent Due to Hijab Ban

What’s more, on Friday, March 25, the Karnataka Department of Primary and Secondary Education had issued a circular which said that government school students would have to wear the uniforms prescribed by the government while appearing for the exams.

Private school students from both aided and unaided schools, according to the circular, would have to wear the uniforms prescribed by the school management.

The circular, signed by the undersecretary of the primary and secondary education department V. Srinivasamurthy, also cited the February 5 GO.

Ministers in the state government echoed these sentiments, with home minister Araga Jnanendra saying anyone who violets the rules will face action.

“We will not compromise on it. Everyone should obey the high court order. Students have to remove the hijab and write the exam,” NDTV quoted Jnanendra as saying.

Primary and secondary education minister B.C. Nagesh, similarly, said, “”Police will naturally take action against anyone violating the government rules. I am confident that no child will give opportunity for such things.”

A total of 8.74 lakh students will appear for class 10 board exams in the state at its 3,440 centres. The exams will conclude on April 11.

Meanwhile, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board challenged the Karnataka high court’s March 15 decision in a petition filed with the Supreme Court, the Indian Express reported.

The board called the high court decision “erroneous” and claimed that it would lead to Muslim girl students and Muslims in general being discriminated against. It also alleged that these students were being denied their right to education.

The petition also challenges the court’s ruling that wearing a hijab does not comprise Islamic essential religious practice, saying that there is consensus among scholars from all schools of thought, “namely Hanafi, Maliki, Shafai and Hambli,” that wearing hijab is mandatory.

On March 24, the Supreme Court had dismissed petitions for an urgent hearing of the Karnataka high court’s verdict before the exams commenced. While dismissing the petition, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had said, “This has nothing to do with the exams…don’t sensationalise.”

This article was first published on The Wire.

(With PTI inputs)