‘We have nothing against Fathima, but cannot make a special case for her’

The mother of a four-year-old Muslim girl has moved the Gauhati High Court after the authorities of a Catholic Mission-run school, Kristo Jyoti School, near Bokakhat in upper Assam’s Golaghat district refused to allow her daughter Fathima Beevi to wear a ‘hijab’ (headscarf) along with the school uniform.

The school’s authorities have given the girl’s parents 15 days’ time to either conform to the rules on attire or stop sending her to the school, where she is attending nursery class. The English-medium high school is run by the Parish of Bokakhat under the Diocese of Dibrugarh.

According to advocate Jayanta Kumar Goswami, counsel of petitioner Alee Ahmed, on March 21 Fathima’s class teacher objected to her wearing the headscarf and wrote a remark in the student’s diary asking the parents to refer to the rules on school uniform, which they had agreed to abide by in writing at the time of admission.

On March 25, Ms. Ahmed wrote to Principal Father Jose Varghese requesting a relaxation in the uniform rules to allow her daughter to wear the ‘hijab’, part of a family tradition, in the school. Ms. Ahmed stressed that Fathima, being a follower of Islam, had a religious right to wear the ‘hijab.’

Father Varghese told The Hindu that the school’s managing committee had discussed the petition from Fathima’s parents and decided not to allow any relaxation in rules. On March 28, the principal sent the parents a letter through registered post conveying the decision. The post was received on April 1.

On April 8, Ms. Ahmed filed a writ petition in the High Court with a prayer to set aside the decision of the school’s managing committee as reflected in the Principal’s letter.

Father Varghese, however, said it was not right for the parents of any student to seek relaxation after agreeing to abide by the school’s rules and regulations at the time of admission.“Enforcing rules and regulations, including rules on uniform of students, is vital to maintenance of discipline and smooth running of a school. Apart from Fathima, we also have several Muslim girls as students and all of them strictly follow the uniform rules. We have nothing against Fathima.

“However, if we make any relaxation for her then we may have to make relaxation for others too as our school has students from different castes, religions, tribes and communities. In such a situation, the significance of uniform rules will be lost. Moreover, uniform is introduced in a school to ensure equality among the students.”