JOHANNESBURG: Scores of people from all religious backgrounds gathered in Johannesburg to denounce increasing Islamophobia and threats of violence against Muslims in parts of India.
This comes after a ban on hijabs in colleges and some schools in the southern Indian state of Karnataka this month which has triggered a conflict amid growing concerns that the attacks on Muslim symbols and practices are part of the larger Hindu far-right agenda of imposing majority values on minorities.
The country’s 200 million Muslim minority community fear the ban on hijabs violates their religious freedom, guaranteed under India’s constitution.
The protest organizer and social activist Salman Khan agreed and told The Saturday Star that any acts of discrimination are against the ideals of Hinduism.
“Calling for girls and women in India to remove their Hijabs perpetuates Islamophobia and we are against anyone having to change their religious practices,” the deputy chairperson of the Congress of Muslim Ummah, who is spearheading the #handsoffourhijab protest said.
“This is against the teachings of Hinduism and we call for a united India, an India for all which is a holy book for people of all cultures to live together in peace.”
Those who attended the gathering also supported this message as they branded signs which echoed support for Muslims facing discrimination and violence in India.
Khan said he was part of the team which organized the protest because he felt that he could no longer remain quiet on the matter and demanded that Indian officials rectify the situation.
“This has been brewing for a long time in India and is being driven by a pocket of extremist Hindus which are tainting the image of the country and we saying that this is unacceptable and we are peacefully asking for action to be taken as this is against the wishes of India’s founding fathers.”
Khan added that the large population of Indians living in South Africa, one of the biggest outside India, could send a powerful message against any acts of violence and Islamophobia.
“We are all brothers and sisters and this is a very dangerous situation.”
“We need to fight Islamophobia and prevent further violence so that all kinds of people are able to live together in peace.”
The situation which prompted the #handsoffourhijab escalated in early February when a group of hijab-wearing Muslim girls camped outside a college in the state’s Udupi district after the authorities shut gates on them.
This was met with a widespread wave of solidarity from across India when footage of the protests emerged on social media as activists demanded a repeal of the ban.
But the college and the government did not heed the demands and instead it had a ripple effect, with several other colleges in the district imposing a ban on hijab after opposition from Hindu students and activists who donned saffron – a color associated with Hinduism – scarves and shawls.