Hundreds of students in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata on Wednesday chanted slogans and blocked roads in protest of a hijab ban in the southern state of Karnataka, as a row over wearing the head covering in schools intensifies.
The row has drawn in Malala Yousafzai, the campaigner for girls’ education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who survived being shot aged 15 by a Taliban gunman in her native Pakistan in 2012, who asked Indian leaders in a tweet to “stop the marginalisation of Muslim women”.
Local media reported last week that several schools in Karnataka had denied entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab citing an education ministry order, prompting protests from parents and students.
Hindu students mounted counter-protests, flocking to schools in recent days in support of the ban, forcing the Karnataka state government to shut schools and colleges for three days to ease tensions between the two communities.
In one incident in a video widely shared online, a lone Muslim student wearing the hijab is surrounded by Hindu male youths shouting religious slogans while trying to enter her school in Karnataka.
The protesting students in Kolkata on Wednesday were predominantly women wearing hijabs, a Reuters eyewitness said, adding the demonstrations were without incident. The students told Reuters that they plan to reconvene on Thursday.
“We will keep protesting until the government stops insulting the students,” said Tasmeen Sultana, one of the protestors. “We want our fundamental rights back…you cannot take away our rights.”
Protests have also been planned on Wednesday in India’s capital New Delhi.
“Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying. Objectification of women persists — for wearing less or more,” Yousafzai said in a tweet late on Tuesday.
The government of Karnataka, where 12% of the population is Muslim and which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has said in an order that students should follow dress codes set by schools.
Opposition parties and critics accuse the BJP government at federal and state level of discriminating against the minority Muslim population. Modi has defended his record and says his economic and social policies benefit all Indians.