In Mangaluru, A Christian College Faces Muslim Group Protest Over Uniform For Women Students

M Raghuram

Jun 30, 2018, 06:19 PM | Updated 06:19 PM IST

Representative image: a young woman wearing a hijab watches on. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) 
Representative image: a young woman wearing a hijab watches on. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) 
  • Muslim girl students of St Agnes College rise up in protest against the prescribed dress code for the college.
  • The college management believes that the girls were instigated by outside forces to protest against the uniform.
  • Turns out, similar cases of induced protest in schools have been seen elsewhere.
  • St Agnes College, run by the Apostolic Carmel and which will celebrate 100 years in 2021, has alleged of a ploy to malign its group of institutions by the Campus Front of India (CFI), a Muslim student body.

    St Agnes College principal Dr M Jeswina told Swarajya Friday (29 June) that a non-issue of college uniform prescribed for the students had been depicted as an “anti-Muslim custom”. The CFI staged a protest in front of the college on Monday (25 June), asking Muslim girls in the college to revolt against the institution.

    Like any other educational institution, “our college also has prescribed uniforms for our students. It is written in our college book, rules, and the calendar of events given to each students. For the new students seeking admissions, we ask them to abide by our rules including wearing the uniform. In the classrooms, nobody is allowed to wear anything but uniform and all our students adhere to the rule including the students from the Muslim community,” said Dr Jeswina.

    “They never complained against it till now,” she said, adding, “their parents and elders had also concurred with the rules of the college. But suddenly, activists of CFI on had gathered with students from other colleges and created an ugly scene, calling the college anti-minority, and accused the college of trying to stifle Muslim culture of wearing hijab and headscarf,” Dr Jeswina said.

    St Agnes College principal Dr M Jeswina and others at the press conference
    St Agnes College principal Dr M Jeswina and others at the press conference

    The crowd that had gathered outside the college appeared to have been from the Muslim student community, but many of them did not appear to be students; they resembled a group of activists. College security staff alleged that some of them appeared to be older.

    “The activists had lured a third-year B Com student Fathim Anisha Sheikh out of college and made her issue statements to the media against the rules of wearing uniform. We do not want any discrimination against any student in the classroom, which is why we want all students irrespective of caste, religion, and community to wear uniform. Any other religious dress does not fit into our dress code for students. We want every student to feel equal by dress, discipline, and behaviour,” said Malavika, the dean of the college.

    The CFI has been at the forefront of a “movement” to Islamise college campuses across the country and this is the first time they have attacked a Christian institution. Earlier, government pre-university colleges, high schools, and even professional colleges were targeted. The attack on Ramakunja composite college in Puttur taluk in 2012 and 2014 had made national headlines, maligning educational institutions for being “unkind to Muslim students” by asking them to wear the prescribed school uniform.

    Srinivas College of Engineering at Kulai had also been attacked in 2017 by the CFI for imposing a uniform. They wanted Muslim students to wear burkas and headscarves inside the college campus so they could be identified as Muslim women.

    The ban on wearing headscarves by girl students in the Ramakunja high school and composite college in Uppinangady in Puttur taluk was also taken up by the CFI, but the headmaster stood his ground, backed by the management and the school development committee at that point. The school, however, made arrangements for Muslim girl students to change to their customary dress after school hours. At one point of time, Hindu fringe group activists had threatened to intervene if the school did not have a uniform dress code for all students. However, elders in the Muslim community defied the CFI activists and told them to stay away from their children.

    In the same vein, two different colleges in Mangaluru city run by the Hindu community banned boys wearing black dhotis to the college during the Ayyappa season. They were asked by the college management to come to college dressed appropriately and without beard. None of the CFI activists had then even raised a finger, argue the students.

    The burka issue has been raising its head now and then. The CFI does not want girl students of the Muslim community to be seen in co-educational institutions run by other communities. A leader of the CFI told Swarajya that Islamic women should follow Sharia and cannot be seen by men of other communities, but institutions run by Hindus and Christians were making it mandatory for wearing uniforms that are not Islamic. If Christian and Hindu institutions are so touchy about the hijab and the headscarves, then why do nuns wear their religious attire and Hindu teachers their saris?

    Taking exception to such comments, nuns of the Apostolic Carmel say they wear the dress that is ordained for a nun and that they have renounced all material life and are committed to social and educational service. Equating our dress to that of young college-going girls is nothing but demeaning the very sacrifice that we and thousands of sisters and nuns make all over the world, they said.

    At the Sri Venkataramana Swamy College, Buntwal, which had faced a similar situation in 2014 and 2015, authorities had staved off threats effectively by standing their ground on the rules. Similarly, Ramakunja composite college made it clear to every student and parent that there was no letting up on the rule of wearing uniforms. They said that no religious dress would be allowed inside the college campus and especially in the classroom.

    Srinivas College of Engineering, which had also been allegedly attacked by the CFI earlier this year, had said there would be no talks with CFI activists as they were non-entities inside their campus. Anybody who would try try to meddle with our internal discipline, they said, would have to face legal consequences. The management stood their ground firmly.

    However, the CFI has powerful political backing from leaders like Ramanatha Rai and U T Khader. In the current situation in St Agnes, the Muslim elders who had a round of meeting with Khader have told him not to support CFI or any other organisation that will use their children for their political or religious motives. It is learnt from reliable sources that Khader had lauded their views.

    Fathima’s father, Anees Sheik, has expressed his support to St Agnes College management and said he had been backed by the elders of his community. He said the CFI had used his daughter for their ends, which was not just a crime but also impropriety.

    Raghuram hails from coastal Karnataka and writes on communal politics.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.