In Udupi, peace meet chaired by MLA says hijab okay in institutions with no dress code
Udupi: With high schools reopening in Karnataka on Monday, after a five-day break to cool communal tensions over the hijab ban row, the police in Udupi have imposed prohibitory orders near campuses for six days till Saturday in the southern district at the centre of the controversy.
The move comes at a time when the state is entering a crucial week in the faceoff, with the Opposition set to question the BJP state government on the issue in the Assembly session starting Monday even as the Karnataka High Court resumes hearings on pleas against the ban.
On Sunday evening, a multi-faith peace committee in Udupi headed by the local BJP MLA agreed to ensure that the High Court’s interim order on Friday, asking students not to wear any religious dress to class, will be enforced only in educational institutions that have prescribed uniforms for students — as stated by the court.
The High Court had said that its interim order “is confined to…institutions wherein the College Development Committees have prescribed the student dress code/ uniform”.
The peace committee’s decision confirms that students in Udupi are free to wear the hijab in schools and colleges that have no rules on wearing a uniform. Officials said the move will help in reducing tensions over the issue. The state’s Department of Undergraduate Education does not mandate uniforms for its colleges, but some individual government colleges have been following their own rules in prescribing uniforms.
Earlier, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that he had instructed district officials, the police and school administrations to conduct “peace committee” meetings over the issue. The Udupi meeting was chaired by MLA Raghupathi Bhat and attended by several parents of students, political and religious leaders, and senior police officers and district officials.
According to Bhat, among those who attended were members of the Muslim Okkoota, a grouping of community organisations. A religious leader who is a member of the Okkoota confirmed that their representatives attended the meeting.
Bhat said the meeting also included representatives of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political outfit of the radical Popular Front of India (PFI), which is part of the Okkoota. SDPI leaders could not be reached to confirm their participation.
However, the Campus Front of India (CFI), the student organisation of the PFI that has been playing a key role in the agitation against a hijab ban, said they were not invited.
“If they (the MLA) and the taluk administration had invited us, we would have attended the meeting for the good of the students,” CFI district chief Aseel Akram said. According to Akram, the SDPI was represented at the meeting.
Among the others who took part in the meeting were Pre-University College Development Committee vice president Yashpal Suvarna and Udupi City Municipal Council chief and BJP leader Sumitra Nayak.
“The organisations that took part in the meeting responded positively to the view that untoward incidents should be avoided over the issue and everyone should wait till the High Court gives a final verdict,” MLA Bhat said.
Incidentally, the Government Girls Pre-University College in Udupi, where the row first broke out when a group of eight Muslim girl students were kept out of classrooms for wearing the hijab, has a uniform prescribed for students.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah has convened a meeting of the Congress legislature party on Monday to discuss strategy for the session.
“Although the issue is in the Karnataka High Court, our party is planning to question the BJP government’s failure in maintaining law and order during the hijab-saffron shawl row in college campuses across the state. We will also demand an explanation from the government on the declaration of holidays for colleges till February 16,” Congress sources told to media.
Even as schools and colleges were shut in the state from February 9, the Higher Education department had announced the closure of all first-grade and postgraduate colleges as well as universities and technical institutes till February 16.
In Udupi, the police said prohibitory orders will be in place within 200 metres of all high schools in the district from 6 am on February 14 (Monday) to 6 pm on February 19 (Friday). “Prohibitory orders have been issued based on requests from the three sub-divisional police officers of Udupi district,” Deputy Commissioner Kurma Rao M told to media.
The Udupi police have also provided an armed guard for MLA Bhat after he claimed to have received threat calls from unidentified people after the hijab ban snowballed into a controversy.
Speaking to reporters, Chief Minister Bommai expressed confidence that “peace and normalcy” will prevail in the state.
“A decision regarding the reopening of pre-university and degree colleges will be taken after assessing the situation. Trouble-makers will face legal action as schools up to Class 10 are reopening from Monday. The students must focus on the examinations scheduled in March, other things will be taken care of by investigative agencies,” he said.