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ABVP imposes ban on wearing burkhas in rural college in Karnataka

Sudipto Mondal

PANJA VILLAGE/SULLIA TALUK: Muslim girls of the Government Composite Pre-University College here have been banned from wearing burkhas by local Hindutva outfits and the Bharatiya Janata Party-affiliated Akhil Bharathiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

According to Lakshmisha Gobbalathadka, the self-proclaimed architect of the ban, the idea was first proposed to the college authorities at his behest by a few students affiliated to the ABVP in early January this year.

“Four of my boys spoke to the college principal and demanded that Muslim girls be banned from wearing burkhas in classrooms,” said Mr. Gobbalathadka, who is also the district convener of a fringe outfit called Hindu Jagarana Vedike.

“We agreed immediately. We did not want any trouble,” said a college official. But soon the demands began to grow. Emboldened by the support the boys received from a section of students, they went on to extend the ban to the entire 28-acre campus.

Once the ban was formalised by the college authorities, a groups of boys took it upon themselves to impose it. “Every day, the boys sit at the tea stall near the college gate. If we take even one step into the college gate with the burkha on, they start scolding us,” said a 16-year-old class 10 student.

Violence on campus

Meanwhile, another controversy broke out on the campus after the ABVP alleged that a Muslim boy had made a proposal of marriage to a Hindu girl. “Our boys beat up the Muslim boy on February 28,” claimed Mr. Gobbalathadka. At the college’s development committee meeting on January 29, a large group of students, led by Mr. Gobbalathadka, barged in demanding that Muslim girls stop wearing the burkha even on their way to and from the college. The demand created a furore dividing committee members, according to college principal, Balasubramaniam. Soon, hundreds of activists entered the venue and physically attacked Muslim committee members and Hindus who opposed their demands. Following the incident, Mr. Gobbalathadka and his followers were arrested and remanded in judicial custody.

Growing support

“Many others have been inspired by the success we have had here. Soon, this campaign will spread to all government colleges in the region,” Mr. Gobbalathadka told The Hindu, and added that the garment would soon be banned from public spaces in the entire village of Panja.

Panja gram panchayat president Rafique, who sustained injuries during the January 29 violence, said: “Some may feel that the burkha is a symbol of oppression of women. Even if that is true, a resistance to the garment should come from within the community. How can we tolerate somebody using force to ban the burkha?”

Reacting to the issue, Deputy Director of Public Instruction C. Chame Gowda told The Hindu, “The college authorities might have agreed to the ban under pressure. But there is no law that prevents the burkha. Everybody has the right to practice their religious beliefs as long as it does not inconvenience others.”

Deputy Commissioner V. Ponnuraj expressed concern over the developments and said he was still inquiring into the issue. “The rule of law and the Constitution will prevail,” he said.

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