India’s southern Karnataka state has ordered schools and colleges to shut for three days, its chief minister said on Tuesday, after protests erupted in response to some schools refusing entry to students wearing the hijab.
Local media reported last week that several schools in the coastal city of Udupi had denied entry to Muslim girls wearing the hijab citing an education ministry order, prompting protests from parents and students.
Tensions have frayed further in recent days in Udupi and elsewhere in majority Hindu Karnataka as students with saffron shawls – typically worn by Hindus – thronged into classrooms to show their support of their schools’ hijab ban.
“I appeal to all the students, teachers and management of schools and colleges as well as people of Karnataka to maintain peace and harmony,” Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said 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), said in an order on Feb. 5 that all schools should follow dress codes set by management.
B.C. Nagesh, the education minister of Karnataka who tweeted the order, said school dress codes had been set after reviewing court decisions from across the country to ban the hijab at educational institutions.
Opposition parties and critics accuse the BJP government at federal and state level of discriminating against religious minorities and running the risk of stoking violence. Modi has defended his record and says his economic and social policies benefit all Indians.
A case filed by one of the students, who said in her petition that wearing the hijab was a fundamental right to religion guaranteed by the constitution, was heard in the Karnataka High Court in state capital Bengaluru on Tuesday.
While no final order was passed, the judge appealed for peace and calm, and will continue hearing the petition on Wednesday, one of the lawyers for the petitioner told Reuters.