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Hijab row: 'Don't become pawns of politicians'

February 15, 2022 15:54 IST
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'All parties are engaging in polarisation to strengthen their political vote banks, which is very unfortunate because these are young, impressionable, students.'
'These students are our future.'
'What kind of a society are we banking upon if we are planting such poisonous seeds into their minds?'

IMAGE: Women participate in a mass prayer congregation in solidarity with the girl students of Karnataka wearing the hijab at the Ujale Shah Eidgah, Saidabad, Hyderabad, February 9, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Independent Lok Sabha MP from Mandya Sumalatha Ambareesh feels there is more to the anti-hijab protests than meets the eye.

Mandya in Karnataka was where a young Muslim girl, Muskan Khan, was seen heckled by a group of young men wearing saffron stoles at a pre university college in the area.

Sumalatha Ambareesh opens up to Prasanna D Zore/ about the controversy that has pitched pro and anti-hijab protesters in Karnataka against each other over wearing of garments that symbolises religion inside classrooms.

The concluding segment of an exclusive two-part interview:


Did the principal agree to your suggestion that action should be taken against those boys?

Yes. He said he has already spoken to them, but after my call he said he will again call them and speak to them.

Did you try to contact Muskan or her family or family of those six or seven Udupi girls who insisted on wearing a hijab to get their side of the story after getting the versions of the college principals from Udupi and Mandya schools?

I definitely plan to when I go back to Karnataka. I am in Delhi right now to attend Parliament (this interview was conducted before the Lok Sabha adjourned on Friday). I am planning to visit my constituency and visit these people in person and try to talk to them.

Isn't this issue cannon fodder for the BJP to expand its political footprint in Mandya because they have been all but wiped out of Mandya district?
Out of the seven MLAs from Mandya, the BJP has just one MLA from Krishnarajpet and the rest all are from the Janata Dal-Secular. You happen to be an Independent Lok Sabha MP from Mandya.

If you look at it, these protests are hinting at a clear attempt at polarisation. I wouldn't say it is just the BJP which is at it, but the other party is also at it.

All parties are engaging in polarisation to strengthen their political vote banks, which is very unfortunate because these are young, impressionable, students. These students are our future.

What kind of a society are we banking upon if we are planting such poisonous seeds into their minds?

Having said having said all this, I would welcome tomorrow if the court does decide that they (Muslim girl students) are allowed to wear it (the hijab inside classrooms). I would be happiest.

Let's put an end to this if that is what they (the Muslim girl students) want.

But the only issue is after the Karnataka high court's verdict, whichever way it goes, will those who benefit from engineering social and religious polarisation stop their protests or further attempts at polarisation?
Will tensions subside in Karnataka after the high court's order on this issue?

Let me be very honest with you. We have all seen such incidents (attempts and polarisation). Starting something like this is very easy, stopping it is not going to be so easy. They have opened the dam and now who's going to control the flow, the floods; it's not that easy.

While it is the responsibility of every political party to help ease the situation the fact is I am afraid it seems a remote possibility.

Being a woman I would place humanity above any religion or community. I would place humanity above any custom or tradition or any religious teachings.

None of the religious teachings was written by God as such. It's all done by humans. There have been reforms in every religion and I admire the way that girl (Muskan) was fighting for herself.

It shows she is smart, she is not going to be cowed down by whatever is happening, but I wish the same strength could be used for bringing in some reforms in the religion (Islam) also.

When you are fighting for being covered from top to toe I would still see that as being oppressed. This is my personal view.

I am not advocating or saying that it (covering one's body from head to toe) is wrong, but I would be happier if that girl shows the same strength to inspire other women to see what is really wrong with this (practice of covering from head to toe).

Thousands of Muslim women choose not to wear the hijab. That doesn't mean they are any less Muslim.

Are these women committing a sin against their (Islamic) preaching? I don't think so and I am sure even they (the women who don't wear the hijab) don't feel so.

Aren't there other schools in Karnataka where Muslim girl students go to schools and colleges wearing hijabs without any problems like in Udupi and Mandya?

These are government schools (where the protests happened in Udupi and Mandya). These schools have their own rules and regulations.

Is hijab not allowed in all government schools and colleges in Karnataka?

I am not clear about that. This is what I have heard in the Mangalore and Udupi region (that government schools don't allow hijabs). I have seen plenty of girls wearing hijabss in other institutions and it has all been very peaceful so far.

I hope this issue doesn't get blown out of proportion and peace and harmony prevails. Your lives, your future, your friendships are more important than such issues.

What message would you like to give to girl students in Karnataka?

This is the time to focus on your studies. Please do not be influenced or become tools or pawns in any political outfit's hands.

If you are keen and happy to fight for wearing the hijab, then fight for it. Nobody can stop you from fighting for it.

But if you are being influenced or if you are being played by political hands -- like what has happened in Muskan's case; the day after this incident happened, somebody announced a Rs 5 lakh reward for her, some individual announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh. What kind of message does that (such acts) send now? This is all very wrong.

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