Religious Garments Ban Sparks College Protests in India

Colleges in Karnataka, India, have started banning the use of any religious garment not explicitly called for in their dress code. This prevents Muslim women from wearing hijabs.

Students wearing hijabs who arrived at school after the ban were denied entrance, leading to protests and consequently counterprotests by Hindu right-wing groups.

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, commented: “Religious freedom includes the ability to choose one’s religious attire. The Indian state of Karnataka should not determine permissibility of religious clothing. Hijab bans in schools violate religious freedom and stigmatize and marginalize women and girls.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs of India released a statement noting the matter: “A matter regarding dress code in some educational institutions in the State of Karnataka is under judicial examination by the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka. Our constitutional framework and mechanisms, as well as our democratic ethos and polity, are the context in which issues are considered and resolved. Those who know India well would have a proper appreciation of these realities. Motivated comments on our internal issues are not welcome.”

India is home to 200 million Muslims, one of the largest populations of Muslims in the world and the largest minority in the predominantly Hindu country. Per the Council on Foreign Relations the Muslim communities in India have been facing discrimination in employment and education for decades. The Indian parliament and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been criticized for discriminatory law, in particular the Citizenship Amendment Act passed in 2019 which fasttracks making citizens of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act makes no protections for Muslims and means individuals seeking to become citizens of India are judged, at least in part, by their personal religion.