MUMBAI, India – A Catholic college in India has reaffirmed its right to have a dress code after Muslim students held a protest over the school’s ban on headscarves.
St. Agnes College is an all-female institution of higher learning in Mangaluru (formerly Mangalore), in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
Founded in 1921, the college is run by Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel Congregation.
On June 25, Muslim students wearing headscarves protested outside its gates, claiming they were being “denied the right” to wear them.
“When our Constitution and the government allow us to wear hijab, how can the college remove our right?” Fathima Anis Sheikh, one of the protesting students, asked journalists.
“St. Agnes College is a minority institution catering to women’s education in particular. We respect every student who chooses to study here,” said a statement from Sister M. Jaswina, the principal of the college.
“The management has framed rules and regulations to maintain order and discipline. Accordingly, the college rule states that the students are not permitted to wear a headscarf inside the classroom. The students and their parents are aware of this rule before seeking admission in our college,” the statement continued.
The college allows the women to wear head coverings outside of the college.
After the press reported that those participating in the protest had been suspended, Jaswina called a press conference on June 29 to deny the claims.
“No student has been suspended from the college after the protest over wearing hijab in the classroom. In fact, all students who went on protest on Monday June 25 … were present in the class the very next day and all have continued to attend the classes till today,” she said.
She did say the participants in the protest were asked to give an explanation for their actions in writing in the presence of their parents within three days.
The principal explained that the school has a uniform that is required of all students, and that no other attire is permitted on the college premises during school hours.
“No student should wear the headscarf. Students should not cover their faces or wear any clothes except the prescribed college uniform inside the campus,” Jaswina said.
“Admissions of the students are made only on the basis of those regulations among other requirements. The students and their parents have agreed to abide by all the rules and regulations of the college. We respect every student who chooses to study here. We would like to continue this cordial relationship with our faculty, students, parents, alumni, and the public and promote friendly environment in the campus,” she added.
The religious sister also said the Campus Front of India – a leftist student activist organization – played a role in the protest.
“The girls who participated in the protest later came to us and apologized stating that they were being dragged into the matter,” she said.
“Actually, the CFI members called us outside the gate for some discussion. But when we reached there, suddenly they shouted slogans against the college. We never thought this would happen,” Jaswina reported the students as saying.
The father of Fathima Anis Sheikh agreed, saying his daughter had been “brainwashed.”
“This is an issue that could be resolved between the management and the parents. I am not supporting the interference of outsiders,” Anis said.
“I have known this institution for the past twenty years, and I agreed to all the terms and rules of the college when admitting my daughter here. I have great respect for St. Agnes … My daughter was brainwashed by others to speak to the media against the college. But now she has realized her mistake.”