NEW DELHI: Authorities in the southern Indian state of Karnataka closed schools and banned gatherings on Wednesday after protests against Muslim women wearing headscarves in the classroom turned violent.
The controversy began in late January, when six girl students at a government-run senior high school in the state’s Udupi district started a peaceful protest after they were barred from attending classes for wearing the hijab.
After the state government last week backed the school authorities and banned the hijab at educational institutions, the schoolgirls attracted media attention, demonstrations in their support, as well as counterprotests by some Hindu groups.
But the rallies turned violent on Tuesday, with reports of stone throwing and arson, leading the chief minister of Karnataka to order all schools to close for three days. Police in the state’s capital imposed a ban on all kinds of gatherings near educational institutions for the next 10 days.
Bangalore police commissioner Kamal Kant said in a statement the ban had been imposed as “at some places, these protests have led to violence” and it was “essential to implement proper security measures to maintain public peace and order.”
The girls who staged the initial protest said the events were unprecedented as they had never faced any problems over wearing the hijab before in the state, where 12 percent of the population is Muslim.
“This is an unnecessary controversy, and we never faced an issue wearing hijab in the school in the past,” Almas AH, one of the girls, told Arab News.
The ban has raised fears among Muslim students in the state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
“There has never been an issue with us wearing hijab,” said Aysha Byndoor, another protester from Udupi. “Hijab is our cultural marking and it’s our choice.”
The Association for Protection of Civil Rights, which filed a petition with the Karnataka High Court, said the ban went against the constitution.
“India is a country known for its diversity and the constitution protects this,” APCR Secretary-General Nadim Khan told Arab News.
“We have trust in the court. This is a sensitive issue. The Hindu right wing is trying to impose its cultural nationalism where it wants to impose majoritarian choice on the people following different religious practices.”
The court on Wednesday asked the chief justice to set up a larger bench to decide whether the ban violated the fundamental rights of individuals.