A political row has erupted in Kashmir after female students of a school in Srinagar stated that they were not allowed to enter while wearing abaya —a loose-fitting full-length robe—and staged a protest against the school administration.
The row erupted after students of the Vishwa Bharati Higher Secondary School (VBHSS) School in the Rainawari area of the old city of Srinagar staged a protest. As the students protested and political parties sided with them, the school administration got rattled and initially said they had received the orders from the higher-ups but later stated that the facts had been misrepresented.
However, the incident didn’t remain within the school premises. As videos of protesting students went viral on social media, it evoked widespread outrage with political parties terming it a part of the efforts to humiliate the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Political reactions to students' protest
Former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was the first to comment on the issue. She described it as another experiment by the government in Jammu and Kashmir and said that after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the government is out to humiliate people. She said her party will not accept such kind of “diktats”.
“Whatever girls want to wear should be left to them. You cannot force your choice on the people,” said Mehbooba.
Mehbooba said the government first launched an attack on the religious symbols of people of J&K through questioning and arrest of religious leaders and now they have launched this fresh attack on dress of the girl students.
“We have tolerated enough and this cannot be tolerated,” said Mehbooba.
Other political parties also joined and called the move by the school to remove the abaya an interference in religious affairs.
The National Conference spokesman Sara Hayat Shah called the move by the school administration an “interference in the religious rights of people”.
She said, “It is unacceptable. It should be left for the girls to decide whether they want to wear hijab or abaya, not the authorities. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion to all citizens.”
What have the students said?
According to the protesting students, the school principal, Meem Rose Shafi, told them that they should not be seen wearing abayas inside the school premises.
“We were not even allowed to attend the school assembly,” one of the protesting students said.
The students said they were called to the principal’s office on Tuesday.
“We explained to the principle that we are feeling comfortable in the abaya and we should be allowed to wear the dress on the school premises as has been the long practice,” the students said.
The students said they even told the principal that they would wear abaya of any colour selected by the school administration. The principal, in response, according to the students, told them that instead of the school they should go to the madrassa. The students alleged the administration of the school is not bothered about uplifting the standard of education in the school and instead has started focussing on their dress.
The students said, “How come they tell students that they shouldn’t wear a particular dress?”
The students said for the past several years, they have been studying in the school and have been wearing abayas.
The student asked, “What has happened all of a sudden that they want us to remove the abaya?”
No ban on abaya, facts being misinterpreted: School
Principal Shafi initially said she had given directions that the students shouldn’t wear abaya inside the school premises. She argued that only some students wear abaya and it leads to indiscipline in the school. She conceded that, over the years, some students of classes 10th, 11th, and 12th were coming to the school wearing abaya and the school had no raised objections. She said there had been no restrictions on whether to wear an abaya or not.
“But for some time now, we have seen the dress has disturbed uniform code in the school as even class fifth students are wearing abaya,” said Shafi, adding that her school has a uniform and it is part of the school discipline.
But after an uproar, Shafi said there was a “misrepresentation of facts”. She said there was no official order banning the abaya on school premises.
She said, “If they have to wear an abaya, let them [wear abaya], but the school should be allowed to decide which colour of the abaya they should wear. We have not banned the abaya but we are telling them to wear the hijab.”
In a statement issued by the school, Shafi said the allegation of a ban on abaya was false. The statement said that the school management always respects the sentiments of all the sections of the society vis a vis the dress code. The statement said no ban has been imposed by the school principal or the management on wearing abaya but it was politely conveyed to the students to wear school uniform underneath the abaya.
“It is for the information of all students that they can wear the abaya and no such restrictions have been imposed in the classrooms. Today’s conversation with the students and the parents has been misrepresented and in any case, if it has hurt the sentiments of the students or the parents, I unconditionally apologise for the same,” read the statement of the principal.