Interfaith friendships in classrooms, which are rare and tenuous under ‘normal’ circumstances, are breaking as students wearing hijabs and saffron shawls clash on campuses in coastal Karnataka. In the coastal district where the situation is volatile, friends and classmates are turning on each other.
Most of the young women targeted for wearing hijabs in Udupi district recounted how they felt betrayed by their classmates and friends who took to sporting saffron shawls. Thairin Begum, a student of Government Junior College, Kundapura, said she was very shocked to see her friend lead the saffron shawl protest at their college. “They gheraoed us with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. He has not spoken to me since then,” she said.
Asmiya, a student of RN Shetty Composite PU College, Kundapura, said one of her close friends, whom she has known for seven years, shared private photographs on social media. “She sent out photos of me without a hijab with abusive messages,” said Asmiya in tears. “I am deeply pained and shocked at how she could do this to me. We used to be treated like daughters in each other’s houses. Even then, I used to wear a hijab. What has changed now? I don’t understand,” she said. When Asmiya’s mother spoke with the girl, she was reportedly abused by her parents.
When asked how the saffron shawl protest he participated in had affected his friendship with Muslim classmates, Akshay, student of Government Junior College, Kundapura, said he did not interact with them. “Interacting with Muslim girls is out of the question, it is a very sensitive issue. There are a few Muslim boys, but we keep to ourselves,” he said.
In other parts of Karnataka, where the situation is not as volatile, seeds of division have been sown. Kausar, a student from a government PU college in Ballari, said the sudden ban on hijab after the interim order of the Karnataka High Court, had not only blocked her from her classroom, but also cut her off from most of her friends and classmates. “Ballari was never known to be communal. But now most of my Hindu classmates don’t talk to me properly,” she said.
Rashmi (name changed), a paramedical student from Kolar, said there is a clear line between students wearing hijabs and those who do not. “My friend has been wearing a hijab for years. It never came in the way of our friendship. But today, there is so much peer pressure on me to cut contact with her. We pretend not to speak to each other on the campus, but are in touch over the phone anyway,” she said.
Saima Zainab, college student from Bengaluru, said her younger brother in high school had a bad experience in the classroom. “The classroom is divided on religious lines. Those who were friends with my brother seem to be distancing themselves from him now. I hope the religious divide is healed and my brother is not reduced to his Muslim identity in the classroom,” she said.
The progressive citizens’ group, Bahutva Karnataka, held a candlelight vigil at Bengaluru on Saturday to express concern over the hijab row and the communal divide it is creating. There was also seminar by Roshni Foundation and Progressive Thinkers Forum on “Constitutional Rights and Education of Muslim women” at Gandhi Bhavan in Bengaluru in which writer Lalita Naik and others participated. There was also a discussion by Journalists’ Study Centre on media coverage of the hijab controversy.
(With inputs from Vaishnavi Gopalraj)