FIROZABAD: As two burqa-clad girls leave the SRK college campus in Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad around noon, a group of teachers — seated near the entrance to enforce the dress-code ‘strictly’ — scream at the duo.
As the admonishment continues, one of the girls quickly leaves, and the other feebly tries to explain she wore it ‘only after class was over’. But the teachers barely listen.
The students’ fault: Black burqa is not in sync with the college dress code
The government-aided Shree Rama Chandra Kanhaiyalal College was recently at the heart of a controversy after a video emerged in which the principal was seen swinging a baton near students wearing black burqas and girls saying they were not allowed to enter the college in burqas.
Following a clash between two student groups, the college administration decided to implement a seven-year old dress code more ‘rigorously’ which meant black burqas were no longer a part of the dress code, said college principal Prabhaskar Rai referring to the prospectus.
“If girls want to wear burqa inside the campus they can wear a grey burqa in coordination with the college dress code... I was holding the baton (in the video) to drive away monkeys in the campus and not the girls,” he said.
Shahreyar Ali, a faculty member at the college, claimed not sporting a hijab inside classrooms was not a question of identity as students from other religious groups may feel ‘discriminated against’.
While the administration claims they have a changing room for girls, the arrangement was found to be in a dismal condition.
“If they are so specific about dress code, there should a proper changing room in the campus. It is difficult to change with the current arrangement that the college has,” said a first-year post-graduation student.
A group of three students clad in burqa said teachers insisted they do not wear burqas to class even before the clash happened.
“It was because they insisted there should be uniformity in college,” said Rubina, a student. In the adjacent SRK College of Computer Science and Education, director Umashankar Gupta clarified there was no ‘clamp’ of burqa but girls ‘preferred’ to not wear burqas to classrooms. “But whoever wants to wear it to the class can do so,” said Gupta.
A ground check at three other government-aided colleges in the city showed students were not allowed to wear burqas to their classrooms by authorities. This has been the case for years now.
While some students felt it made them feel equal to their counterparts in the college, others said it was a diktat from college authorities. In M G College, girls were seen changing right after entering the gate and packing the burqas in their bags.
At least eight girls said they were barred from wearing burqas beyond that point. There are no changing rooms.
Nabeela, a BSc student, said “I feel safe with my burqa on. Here, I remove it without questioning the rule because it is a place of education. Anywhere else, I would protest.”
For Iqra, a second-year BA student, burqa is interlinked with her ‘culture’ and ‘identity’. Two former students said they were forced to take their burqas off outside the main gate during exams.
“This is not a religious place. Girls are supposed to come in college uniform so we do not allow burqas in classrooms. Plus, it is a girls’ college. What would they do wearing burqas?” said Nirmala Yadav, principal at the college.
Zakia Soman, founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said the idea of dress code in itself is to control women. “When barriers are created, a girl who is dependent on her family for education has to choose between religion and education. Instead of making girls remove their hijab, the college authorities should facilitate their education.”
“Burqas are not allowed in the classrooms. It is not a part of the uniform. There has to be similarity among all students,” said Uday Rajsingh, principal of C L Jain College.
“There should be no religious colour in the classroom. It also helps us assess if students understood the lessons if their faces are visible. But if some parents are particular about girls wearing their hijab in classrooms, we allow them,” said Vinita Gupta, principal, Dau Dayal Mahila PG College.
Not allowed to enter
The SRK College was at the heart of a controversy after a video emerged in which the principal was seen swinging a baton near burqa-clad students and girls saying they were not allowed to enter the college in burqas