It is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear, a top leader of India’s main opposition Congress party said on Wednesday, amid growing outrage and intensifying protests over a ban on Muslim headscarves in the country’s southern Karnataka state.
“Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat (face veil), a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear,” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, general secretary of the Indian National Congress, said on Twitter.
“This right is GUARANTEED by the Indian constitution. Stop harassing women.”
Her statement came as unceasing unrest over the hijab threatens to spill over into violence in Karnataka, where the government run by India’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has shut educational institutes this week.
In Bengaluru, the state capital and India’s IT hub, a two-week ban has been imposed on any sort of gatherings near schools or colleges.
The issue was sparked by a government-run high school’s decision last month to bar Muslim students from wearing the headscarf in classes.
As a few other institutes followed suit, Hindu far-right groups have been out in force in the state to prevent hijab-wearing Muslim women from entering schools and colleges.
Muslim students have challenged the move in court, with the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday referring the case to a larger bench that will take it up on Thursday.
On Tuesday, a video widely circulated on social media showed a young woman in a headscarf being harassed by a mob of men with saffron shawls – a color seen as a Hindu symbol, but also associated with the BJP.
Surrounding the woman – identified as Muskan Khan – the mob yelled “Jai Sri Ram” (hail Lord Ram) repeatedly.
Khan shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as she was led away by college officials, a show of defiance that has garnered as much praise as the scorn poured on the mob.
The vitriol against Muslim students in Karnataka has prompted more fear and anger among the minority community.
Muslims are among the minority groups that have seen their basic rights being increasingly violated under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, according to several local and international rights groups.
According to the 2011 census, 172 million Muslims are living in India.
Since Modi came to power in 2014, various legislative and other actions have been taken, legitimizing discrimination against religious minorities and enabling violent Hindu nationalism, Human Rights Watch said in a report last year, charges that the Indian premier and the BJP have vehemently denied.
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