India hijab row: Brother of girl at centre of controversy is attacked

Three men were arrested and later released on bail in connection with attack

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Wednesday 23 February 2022 12:30 GMT
Karnataka student mobbed outside college for wearing hijab

The brother of a student from India’s southern state of Karnataka, who has moved court against a ban on hijab, was attacked by an alleged mob of right-wing supporters, according to reports.

Zoya Ahmed* alleged that her 20-year-old brother Saif was assaulted by a mob due to her decision to protest the ban on Islamic headscarves at educational institutions.

She is one of the six students who had approached the Karnataka High Court seeking permission to wear hijabs in classroom after it was banned by the Pre-University College in Udupi district.

On Monday night, a mob of alleged Hindutva supporters – those who support the idea of Hindu hegemony in India – pelted stones at a restaurant owned by Ms Ahmed’s father Hyder Ali in Udupi district. Her brother was closing the restaurant when the mob barged in and assaulted him, following an argument over the hijab row. The window-panes of the restaurant were damaged in the attack.

“My brother was brutally attacked by a mob. Just because I continue to stand for my hijab which is my right. Our property were ruined as well. Why?? Can’t I demand my right? Who will be their next victim? I demand action to be taken against the Sangh Parivar goons,” she tweeted.

Sangh Parivar is an umbrella term for Hindu nationalist organisations in the country.

The Udupi police on Tuesday arrested Deepak, 25, Manoj, 25, and Sanil Raj, 26, from Malpe town of the district. Deepak allegedly slapped Mr Saif.

A rioting case has been registered against the trio, and the police insisted they were not affiliated to any organisation. They were later released on bail following a preliminary probe.

According to local media, Mr Ali had recently expressed his views on the hijab row during a conversation with a television journalist, and an edited version of his statement was uploaded on social media. The mob allegedly went to question Mr Ali about that but attacked his son since he wasn’t present.

In a following tweet, Ms Ahmed appreciated that the police had filed a case but demanded that “they (the attackers) be held accountable and arrested at any cost immediately”.

Protests against the ban on hijab began last year following a stand-off between authorities and students at the Pre-University College in Udupi, where Muslim pupils were barred from attending college if wearing hijab.

In Karnataka, run by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hijab-clad Muslim students have since been hounded by large groups of students wearing saffron scarves – a colour associated with the Hindutva ideology in India.

The Karnataka High Court, through an interim order, imposed a temporary ban on wearing “religious clothes” as it continues to hear the matter. The state government argued that the hijab is not an essential practice of Islam and barring it wouldn’t violate the right to religious freedom guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.

Several Indian states, including the capital Delhi, have witnessed people taking to the streets to protest against such a ban in government-run educational institutions.

The state government, in a bid to calm tensions, had temporarily closed schools and colleges earlier this month, but they have since reopened. After schools reopened, staff members and students were pushed towards public humiliation and were asked to remove their hijab and burqas outside on the streets.

The row gained international attention after celebrities such as Bella Hadid, footballer Paul Pogba and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai condemned the Indian government’s action.

*The name of the girl has been changed at the request of her lawyer to protect her identity. A representative image has been used in this article for the same reason.

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