Woman Barred From Exams For Wearing Hijab to College

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May 23, 2018

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A Mumbai student has been barred from taking her upcoming exams by the Sai Homeopathic Medical College, allegedly for wearing a hijab. The woman has now filed a petition with the Bombay High Court asking for permission to appear for the exams, The Indian Express reports.

Her college said that she would not be allowed to take the 1 June examination for her Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery on the grounds of low attendance. The student countered that the college had prevented her and other women from attending classes if they wore hijabs.

The student was admitted to SHMC in late 2016. “To [the student’s] utter shock and dismay, the college started coercing all Muslim girls to remove their hijab,” the petition stated. The student said that her peers either removed their hijabs or left the college in wake of the college’s “threatening” statements.

The petition also mentioned that the student’s parents had appealed to the college to allow her to wear her hijab as it was part of her religious practice. They also approached the Union Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy last year, which informed the college in writing that it could not ask students to remove their hijab, as it would be a “disrespect to social justice.”

Deepak Salvi, the lawyer who represented SHMC in a previous hearing on the matter in front of the Medical Education and Drugs Department, alleged that the college was not opposed to the student wearing the hijab, but rather a full burqa. “If she wore a burqa, it would have been difficult for her to wear an apron, which is required in some of the classes,” he stated.

The college, and lawyer, seem to think that wearing an apron is such an immutable requirement that it would require a student to forgo religious practices — heaven forbid that someone spill something on their clothes. There is, of course, the possibility that the apron is a safety measure, akin to safety goggles. If so, the task of wearing an apron on top of a burqa does not seem insurmountable. The first step would be to allow the student to try wearing both at once in order to actually verify perceived difficulty. The second step would be to find an alternative style of apron that is less cumbersome to a hijab- or burqa-clad student.

Instead, the apron requirement feels like an implausible excuse, barely covering the Islamophobia rooted at its core. Muslim women around the world face an intersection of misogyny and Islamophobia, such as the women in France who were made to remove their burqas on a public beach. India calls itself a secular country, with freedom of religion a fundamental right in our constitution. But when even the current government has been accused of blatant discrimination against Muslims, it’s no surprise that private institutions are following suit without fear of persecution.

There is very clearly sexism at play here, too; men don’t suffer the same kind of policing on their garments, religious or secular. This incident is the latest in a string of events in which women have been singled out for their clothing — be it by public humiliation or academic exclusion. Earlier this year, a Raipur teacher said girls who wear lipstick and revealing clothes were asking to be raped. Last month, a botany professor in Kerala claimed women who wore jeans would be more likely to birth ‘transgenders.’

In perhaps the most bizarre incident, just last week, it was reported that a college in Bihar cut off the sleeves of several women who were taking an exam, ostensibly to prevent cheating. It’s hard to understand the logic behind this decision, beyond wanting to demean and humiliate these women. It’s almost as confounding as prioritizing an apron over a someone’s education and religious freedom.

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Written By Urvija Banerji

Urvija Banerji is the Features Editor at The Swaddle, and has previously written for Rolling Stone India and Atlas Obscura. When she’s not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, painting, cooking, picking fights online, and consuming large amounts of coffee (often concurrently).

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