Controversy in Kashmir after Army-run school asks staff to ‘avoid Hijab’

Image used for representational purposes. | Photo: AP

The Dagger Parivaar School, which is run by the Army in collaboration with an NGO, said the move was aimed to help disabled students be comfortable interacting with teachers.

Muhammad Raafi | 

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SRINAGAR — A school in north Kashmir run by the Indian army in collaboration with a Pune-based non-governmental organization stoked controversy after the school authorities on Monday asked the staff members to avoid Hijab during school hours.

The circular issued by Dagger Parivaar School Baramulla on April 25 said that the school is a place to learn and grow emotionally and morally. “As the staff of the school, the main purpose is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner. For the same, the trust must be established with the students to make them feel welcome, safe, and happy.”

It added. “The staff is hereby instructed to avoid Hijab during school hours so that students can feel comfortable and are forthcoming to interact with teachers and staff.”

Dagger Parivaar School caters specifically to physically challenged children and is run by a Pune-based voluntary group.

The letter, which has been circulating on social media, triggered a series of responses with people expressing anger and disappointment. “Hijab is a part of education, most important to students, #Kashmir,” wrote a user on Twitter.

Another user said, “Their main motive is to remove hijab from our sister. And look at the comments section instead of targeting the school management they are targeting the one who posted it.”

A school official told News-18 that the circular was “an inadvertent mistake.” He said that the school authorities will revoke the order and issue a new one.

Yasir Yousuf, a resident of Baramulla tweeted, “Principle meant for specially-abled students of #Baramullah, but the circular simply instructs the school staff to ban the Hijab during school hours. #Hijab is part of education, most important to max students! #Kashmir SIC.”

The school was inaugurated in October last year by the Indian Army.

The project was developed as a joint venture by the Indrani Balan Foundation, Pune, and the Indian Army’s Chinar Corps.

The development came just over a month after the Karnataka High Court on March 15 upheld the ban on the hijab in educational institutes in the state. The court had held that the hijab was not an essential part of Islam and thus could not be protected under the fundamental right to religion. The order has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

In February, Hindu students protested against Muslim women wearing Hijab to educational institutes in Karnataka. At some colleges, Muslim students were heckled, while in another case, some men climbed up a flagpole to plant a saffron flag and broke into classrooms.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also reacted to the school diktat and said, “Our girls will not give up their right to choose”.

She tweeted, “I condemn this letter issuing diktats on hijab. J&K may be ruled by BJP but it’s certainly not like any other state where they bulldoze the houses of minorities & not allow them the freedom to dress as they want. Our girls will not give up their right to choose.”

Another former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also condemned the diktat and said, “We live in a secular country and everybody has a right to practice their religion as per their liking.”

He said that those trying to turn Kashmir into Karnataka should desist from doing so. He said that these things are being raked up now for political reasons. He also lashed out at those pitching for banning masjid loudspeakers and ban on Halal meat.

Omar reiterated this is not the same India that Jammu and Kashmir had annexed. “We had annexed with India where all religions were treated equally.”

Muhammad Raafi is a journalist based in New Delhi. He tweets at @MohammadRaafi