Hijab battle at Chembur college: Nine students take issue to high court

14 June,2024 07:13 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Dipti Singh

Pupils contend that dress code is discriminatory, citing constitutional rights and religious freedom

NG Acharya and DK Marathe College in Chembur. File pic

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The issue of restricting the wearing of burqa, hijab, and niqab at Chembur's NG Acharya and DK Marathe College has intensified as nine students take the matter to court. These second and third-year BSc students are challenging the college's May 1 circular that bans wearing hijabs on campus.

The students argue that the dress code violates their rights to privacy, dignity, and religious freedom. Represented by advocate Altaf Khan, they claim the policy is discriminatory, allowing other religious symbols like pendants, bindis and religious threads, while banning hijabs. They believe this infringes upon their constitutional rights. "Imposing restrictions on wearing burqa, hijab, and niqab is discriminatory, illegal, and against the law," said Advocate Altaf Khan. "They talk about decent attire - what's more decent than a burqa, hijab, or niqab?"

The petition argues that the college's actions violate principles of equity and inclusiveness outlined by the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, UGC guidelines, RUSA guidelines, and the National Education Policy. "Such restrictions will increase dropout rates among women," the petitioners contend, adding that the college's actions are akin to denying them admission. They assert, "The college has wrongly categorised the niqab, burqa and hijab as indecent. These are decent attire, and we have the right to dignity and bodily integrity. We are comfortable with our attire and do not want to remove it in the classroom."

Khan stated, "The dress code conflicts with policies promoting access and equity in higher education for disadvantaged groups, including women and minorities. The niqab and hijab are integral to their religious beliefs and personal identity, and the college's actions infringe on their bodily autonomy and personal choice."
The petitioners seek to quash the undated circular and the May 1, 2024, WhatsApp message imposing the dress code, declaring the restrictions on wearing the niqab, burqa, and hijab unconstitutional and not binding.

The circular

The circular dated May 1, 2024, states: "Admissions for 2024-25 will begin online soon. For the academic year starting June 2024, a dress code applies. Students must wear formal and decent attire. Boys can wear full or half shirts and trousers. Girls can wear any Indian dress. Burka, niqab, hijab, or any religious attire like badges, caps, or stoles must be removed in the common room beside the chemistry department. Thursdays will have relaxed dress code rules, but decency must be maintained."

The petitioners have requested an interim stay on the notice until the petition is resolved. The writ petition will be heard by a division bench of the Bombay High Court on June 18.

Principal Dr Vidyagauri Lele responded, "Yes, some students have approached the court regarding this matter. Social workers have also met with our management, and we are addressing it. We've never said this is about religion; we don't intend to offend anyone's religious sentiments. Students can change attire in the common room. They're free to wear it outside the campus."

"The circular only bans religious attire inside. Students can enter in such clothing but must change in the common room. This promotes cultural harmony on campus," said Lele.

"They didn't approach us before going to court. Last meeting was on May 13, when they said if our college implements the dress code, other colleges will follow suit, making education unapproachable for Muslim girls. There was no further meeting," added Lele.

May 1
Day circular was issued

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