Indian state’s hijab ban violates religious freedom: US official | News

The United States Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom speaks out against the South Indian state’s hijab ban, prompting a strong backlash from India.

A US official has raised concerns over the controversial headscarf ban in schools and colleges in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, prompting a forceful rebuttal from New Delhi.

Rashad Hussain, the United States Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, said in a tweet on Friday that banning the hijab would stigmatize and marginalize women and girls.

“Religious freedom includes being able to choose one’s religious dress,” Hussain tweeted.

“The Indian state of Karnataka should not determine the admissibility of religious attire. Banning hijab in schools violates religious freedom and stigmatizes and marginalizes women and girls.

On Saturday, India’s foreign ministry hit back at what it called “reasoned comments” about its internal issues, adding that the case was under judicial review.

“Our constitutional framework and mechanisms, as well as our democratic and political ethos, are the context in which issues are considered and resolved. … Reasoned comments on our internal problems are not welcome,” said ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi.

The row erupted last month when a group of Muslim female students protested after they were banned from entering their university because they were wearing the hijab – a headscarf worn by many Muslim women. Since then, several other colleges have seen protests both for and against the hijab ban, with right-wing Hindu groups wearing saffron shawls staging protests against the hijab.

International reaction

A Muslim student wearing a hijab was heckled by a Hindu far-right mob at a college in Karnataka state on Tuesday, sparking outrage.

The news prompted Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai to urge Indian leaders to end the marginalization of Muslim women. “University forces us to choose between studies and hijab,” she tweeted on Tuesday.

Manchester United and France international Paul Pogba have also expressed concern for Muslim women in Karnataka, sharing a video on Instagram with the caption “Hindu mobs continue to harass Muslim girls wearing hijab at university in India”. Hindutva is the Hindu supremacist ideology that inspires the ruling BJP in India.

Last February, New Delhi reacted strongly to tweets by singer Rihanna and climate change activist Greta Thunberg in solidarity with protesting farmers, saying the celebrities needed “a good understanding of the issues”. The farmers’ protests lasted for a year until the Modi government repealed three agricultural laws – the farmers’ main demands.

On February 5, the southern state government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banned garments that “disrupt equality, integrity and public order”.

Karnataka’s high court postponed its decision on Thursday in response to a petition filed by a group of Muslim women against the hijab ban.

A three-judge panel will hear the case again on Monday to decide whether schools and colleges can order students not to wear the hijab in classrooms. The court, meanwhile, instructed students not to wear hijab in colleges.

Activists said the hijab ban was part of the BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda and contravened India’s constitution, which guarantees the right to religion for every citizen. Since Modi came to power, attacks against minorities, especially Muslims, have increased.

Muslim female students earlier told Al Jazeera that the college’s decision was shocking as they were allowed to attend colleges with their hijab until very recently. They argued that the constitution allowed Indians to wear whatever clothing they chose and display religious symbols.

Activists and opposition leaders have also criticized the state of Karnataka for passing an anti-conversion law and an anti-cow slaughter law last year, which they say are aimed at targeting Christians and Muslims.

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