A group of Hindu students attending classes in a college in the southern state of Karnataka have begun to wear saffron-colored scarves as a sign of protest against the hijab and burqas that Muslim students are allowed to wear to class.
The color saffron is considered to be favorable by the Hindu religion, and is typically used by members of Hindu nationalist groups within India for flags, bandanas and scarves as a way to show their religious identity.
The issue first arose last week as first-year female students at a pharmacy college in Mangalore were refused the right to wear the hijab or burqa and the male students were denied the ability to keep a long beard while on campus.
One first-year student stated that while no one had been forced to leave the class as a result of wearing the hijab or burqa, they were subjected to taunting by staff members.
As a result, the Muslim student group Campus Front of India began to protest the ban, arguing that the Indian constitution allows them the right to practice their religion.
“We will keep protesting till our demands are met. Inside an educational institution, everyone is equal that is why you should have an uniform,” says student Chetan.
Students arrived on campus wearing burqas, chanting, and holding signs that read “We are not silent, we want justice.” A number of parents also joined in the protest.
In response, the college decided to lift the ban, which did not sit well with a number of Hindu students at the school. The students have since worn the orange scarves while attending school.
“It is an attempt by both sides to push college managements into a corner. Both sides want to assert their religious identity and muscle power through their attire,” said B.V. Seetaram, the editor of a local newspaper, Karavali Ale.
After meeting with the activists, the college changed its mind and lifted the ban, which also denied students the ability to wear jeans and t-shirts. First-year students and parents were required to sign a declaration upon admission.
Hindus and Muslims have seen tensions rise between the groups in recent years, as conservatives have spoken out against romantic relationships between the two religions and have noted that women should not be seen in bars.
The government’s board of education placed a ban last year on the wearing of hijabs, burqas, or any long sleeved clothes to medical school entrance exams. Although a number of Muslim groups protested the ban, the board maintained that it was made in an effort to discourage cheating, and the ban was upheld by the Supreme Court, writes Rama Lakshmi for The Washington Post.
“Your faith won’t disappear if you appear for exam on one day without a head scarf,” said the judge.
Protests erupted at another college last year after a teacher requested that a Muslim girl remove her headscarf for the annual photo session.
The most recent census for India shows Muslims accounting for 12% of the total population.