Hindu students in India protest Muslim women wearing burka on campus

© Amit Dave
While the burka debate has caused controversy across Europe, the quarrels over the item of clothing worn by Muslim women has reached college campuses in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Hindu students started wearing saffron-colored scarves in classrooms to protest against Muslim women wearing hijabs and burkas on campuses.

Saffron is a deep orange color and sacred in Hinduism. It is used by many Hindu nationalist groups in their flags, bandanas, scarves and clothing as a mark of their religious identity.

Tensions were high after a pharmacy college in the southern city of Mangalore banned first-year students from wearing the hijab, which covers the head or a burka that covers the full face. Male students were also forbidden from sporting long beards on campus.

The new rules led to protests by Muslim student groups who said the Indian constitution allows individuals to freely practice their religion.

Groups of burka-wearing students shouted slogans at the gates of the college, holding placards saying, “We are not silent, we want justice,”the Washington Post reported.

The college ended the ban as a result of the protests, but many Hindu students in the region were angered by the decision.

Since the beginning of the week, other Hindu students in the small town of Bellare have been wearing orange scarves in protest.

Nationalist student groups have been on the rise across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party won elections and came into power two years ago.

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B.V. Seetaram, editor of local paper Karavali Ale, told the First Post both sides want to “assert their religious identity and muscle power through their attire.”

Tensions have been high between Muslims and Hindus in Karnataka state for years. Conservatives on both sides in the region have continuously opposed relationships between both communities, sometimes resorting to violence as a result.

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Last year, Mohammed Riyaz, a student from Mangaluru’s Govinda Dasa college was kidnapped by a group of right-wing activists and beaten up for hours for taking pictures with his classmates, which included girls from the Hindu community, First Post reports.

Two years before that, a group calling itself the “Muslim Defence Force” sent out a message warning women on Facebook requesting them to ‘unfriend’ Hindu men.