Prateek Dongre, a I PUC student in Belagavi, sees the raging controversy in Karnataka over dress code as something that will affect not only his academics, with examination close at hand, but also have a long-term impact on the atmosphere in classrooms.
“It has not only divided students into Hindus and Muslims and boys and girls, but also into those who support hijab and saffron shawls, and those who do not. This way, the classrooms have been divided in multiple ways. That too just before exams,” he said. He pointed out that such incidents are happening largely in government colleges, where students from poorer sections like him study.
Many students and teachers are horrified by how those who studied together for many years in a classroom have suddenly become “opponents” for the last one week. A section of students, as well as the teaching community in educational institutions in Mysuru with whom The Hindu spoke, were surprised by the sudden eruption of the hijab issue.
“We had classmates and schoolmates belonging to different religions coming to our school. Not all, but a few students belonging to the Muslim community would wear a hijab. That was not an issue,” said a girl student of Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE) in Mysuru who did not wish to be named. She regretted that the issue had taken a “political colour” now, threatening the education of students.
The principal of an engineering college in Mysuru said the sudden flare-up of the dress code issue had taken most of the educational institutions by surprise. “It is very unfortunate for the student community. They have been living harmoniously and it is important to maintain that harmony,” he said. He hoped that the Government handles the issue effectively and normalises the situation at the earliest so that the students can focus on their studies, which have already been hit hard during the last two years owing to COVID-19.
Rajendra Chenni of Shivamogga, who has taught English literature for more than 40 years, said he was “frightened” at the way students in pre-university colleges got involved in the incidents. “They are all in the age group of 16 to 18. The incidents showed how the poison has spread at that early stage. I feel it was not a spontaneous reaction to hijab, but they were being brainwashed for a long time and we have not paid attention to it,” he said. Mr. Chenni added that in his long career of teaching, he had seen many girls wear hijab and it had never bothered other students.
Vachana Gurupadappa, a II PUC student in Belagavi, too expressed surprise over the turn of events. “I saw some boys and girls suddenly wearing saffron shawls. This had never happened before. While Muslim women wear the headscarf in their daily life, I had not seen anyone wear a saffron shawl unless it is for a religious ritual,” she said.
Ahmed Hagare, Junior Training Officer at Siddeshwara ITI in Hassan, opined that the incidents that the State witnessed on Tuesday made him feel that the teaching community, including himself, had failed to make students respect diversity and the Constitution that the country had adopted. “No, it is not the issue of students wearing a particular uniform. It is a political strategy to polarise students. It was evident from the hoisting of the saffron flag on college campus in Shivamogga,” he said.
Some felt that it should have been treated as an internal issue of an institution rather than allow it to blow up. Final year B.Sc student from Mangaluru, Shobhit, said, “It was being addressed by the institutions where the events took place. Sadly, outside forces have entered and vitiated the atmosphere.”
Mahesh Bondala, secretary of Saraswati Education Society, expressed concern over chances of law and order when physical classes resume. “I hope this issue gets resolved at the earliest and students are allowed to prepare peacefully for the impending examinations,” he said.