New Delhi, Feb 8 (EFE).- Protests against the use of hijab or the Islamic headscarf in educational institutes in southern India intensified on Tuesday, after several Hindu student groups clashed with their Muslim counterparts, leading to unrest in several cities.
Violent clashes took place in the southern state of Karnataka, on the same day when the state’s High Court was hearing petitions by five Muslim girls who were banned from attending classes for wearing hijab in late 2021, the incident which has triggered the subsequent unrest.
Karnataka’s Education Minister BC Nagesh told reporters that the clashes were “unfortunate” and alleged that sites of knowledge acquisition had been converted into a religious place by “a few students,” insisting that all religious attire was banned as per rules.
However, violent clashes were reported on Tuesday from several southern states, especially Karnataka, with social media videos showing police officers clashing with demonstrators in several cities.
The protests were led by large groups of Hindu students, wearing saffron-colored scarves that have religious significance, who gathered outside the gates of schools and colleges to support the ban on hijab and protest against the Muslim girl students who insist on wearing the headscarf.
School authorities had to intervene in some cases to separate the two groups, although the Hindu students could be seen chanting religious slogans and shouting at the Muslim girls even later.
A widely shared video showed a solitary Muslim girl wearing a hijab who is shouted at and surrounded by several Hindu boys outside the institute, after which she shouts “Allahu-akbar” (Allah is great) in response.
Another video that triggered a major controversy showed several students taking down the Indian national flag at an institute and replacing it with a saffron-colored Hindu religious flag.
As the unrest intensified, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj S Bommai declared a three-day holiday for high-schools and universities in the state.
The Karnataka High court is set to resume the hearing on the hijab ban on Wednesday.
Although India is a constitutionally secular country, tensions have frequently flared up between the Hindu Majority – which consists around 80 percent of the population – and the Muslims (14 percent), especially in states ruled by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, including Karnataka.
Indian authorities fear an escalation of violence in a country which has witnessed large-scale religious riots in the past, such as the 2002 Hindu-Muslim clashes in the western state of Gujarat, in which thousands of people were killed. EFE