NEW DEHLI: A Muslim woman wearing a hijab in southern India’s Karnataka state has been hailed for braving threats and heckling by a Hindu far-right mob outside a college, as protests intensified over a ban on Islamic headgear in the educational institutes that has outraged Muslim students in the South Asian country.
In a video posted online by campaigners on Tuesday, Muskan Khan is seen parking her two-wheeler outside a college in the city of Mandya before she is heckled by Hindu members of a right-wing group with “Jai Sri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) chants.
The girl reacts by raising her hand and shouting back: “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Great).
Khan, who stood up to a mob of saffron scarf-clad men, told a local TV channel she “was not worried about facing them alone and that she would keep fighting for her right to wear the hijab.”
“I have always worn the hijab in college,” she said, adding the school never had issues with her clothes and it’s “the outsiders” who have stirred the controversy in the province ruled by PM Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP).
Immediately after the video went viral, Khan was called “lioness”, “hero”, “brave”, and “courageous” on social media.
“How brave these men are and how macho they must feel while targeting a lone young lady! Hatred for Muslims has been completely mainstreamed and normalised in India today,” said ex-chief minister of India-administered Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, while commenting on the video in a tweet.
Bollywood actor Richa Chadha slammed the mob and tweeted in support of the woman.
“Raise your sons better! A bunch of ugly, cowards attacking a lone woman in a pack and feeling proud of it? WHAT LOSERS! Shameful. They’ll be jobless, more frustrated and penniless in a few years. What poor upbringing! No sympathy, no redemption for them. I spit on your kind (sic),” she wrote.
Aakar Patel, who is the Chair for Amnesty International India, wrote on Twitter, “Shekhar and I have written a thousand columns each none of which amounted to or achieved what that woman did today,” referring to Shekhar Gupta, founder of news website The Print, whose editorial over the hijab ban drew widespread flak.
Global rights champion Malala Yousafzai called the hijab ban for students “horrifying”, adding, “Objectification of women persists – for wearing less or more. Indian leaders must stop the marginalisation of Muslim women.”
Meanwhile, authorities in the state shut schools on Tuesday.
The stand-off in Karnataka state has galvanised fears among the minority community about what they say is increasing persecution under the Hindu nationalist government of PM Modi.
Fresh demonstrations on Tuesday saw officers fire tear gas to disperse a crowd at one government-run campus, while a heavy police presence was seen at schools in nearby towns.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai appealed for calm after announcing all high schools in the state would be closed for three days.
Students at a government-run high school were told not to wear hijabs last month, an edict that soon spread to other educational institutions in the state.
“All of a sudden they are saying you are not supposed to wear hijab… why did they start now?” said Ayesha, a teenage student at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College in the coastal city of Udupi.
Ayesha said a teacher had turned her away from her chemistry exam for wearing the garment.
“We are not against any religion. We are not protesting against anyone. It is just for our own rights,” she told western media.
Fellow student Amrut, standing nearby among a crowd of Hindu boys wearing saffron shawls, said the dispute had unfairly prevented him from attending class.
“We had… requested them not to wear hijab,” he said. “But today they are wearing hijab. They are not allowing us to go inside.”