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Karnataka Election Results: Hijab Protests Leader Kaneez Fatima Leads In Gulbarga North, Read All About Her

Kaneez Fatima of Congress had said they were 'ready to go to any extent to protect our rights to wear our traditional attire' during last year's hijab protests.

Singled Out: Students sitting outside after being denied entry for wearing the hijab, Kundapura, Udu
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Kaneez Fatima of Congress, who had emerged as a leading voice during hijab protests in Karnataka, has emerged as the leading candidate in Gulbarga North constituency in Karnataka assembly elections. 

While the Election Commission (EC) website, last updated on 4:35 pm, shows her as the leading candidate, several publications have reported that she has won the seat. 

Fatima was pitched against Chandrakant B Patil of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has a lead of 2,712 votes, as per the EC website.

The BJP government in Karntaka had banned girls and women from wearing hijab —Islamic head covering— in state-run schools and colleges in late 2021. This had led to protestes and counter-protests that had polarised the state. The validity of the ban is currently under judicial consideration at the Supreme Court. 

While the hijab ban was a major issue last year, it was not reported to be a major issue in the Karnataka assembly elections that the Congress party has now won. Of the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly, Congress has won 96 and has acquired a lead on 40, whereas the BJP has been reduced to 45 seats and a lead on 19 seats, as per the EC data updated on 4:15 pm.

Here we revisit the Karnataka hijab protests and the role of Fatima.

Karnataka hijab protests one year later

Karnataka hijab protests began after the BJP government banned hijab in classrooms in late 2021. 

In December 2021, six young women of the Government Pre-University (PU) College for Girls in Udupi, Karnataka, were barred from sitting for their examinations because they had refused to remove their hijabs as per the state government's ban. Several women and girls came out in support of the right to wear hijab.

The right to wear hijab was defended from the points of view of personal choice and a religious right as well. Reports say that several female students lost  substantial time of their academic year as they could not attend school as they were not allowed to study with hijab.

Outlook's Rakhi Bose noted, "Young Muslim women in Karnataka are caught in the crosshairs of the legal justice system, right wing organisations and religious fundamentalism, all of which have impacted their personal freedoms, autonomy and right to access education. Many like Assadi have suffered educationally and have been rendered prisoners in their own homes as the state they call home grows more hostile."

However, hijab was not reported to be a major issue in the elections that the Congress party has now won. Parties did not raise the issue in the campaigns. While the BJP focussed on development, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) was the only party that raised the issue.

"The Congress leaders are also not highlighting the issue in their campaign. Opposition deputy leader U T Khader, who was blamed for taking an ambivalent stand when the row surfaced, said he believes that everyone should follow the rule and laws of the land to maintain peace and harmony," said an Outlook report earlier

Kaneez Fatima and hijab protests

At the height of hijab protests in February last year, Congress MLA Kaneez Fatima had dared the government to ask her to remove hijab in the assembly.

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Fatima had come out in support of students' right to wear hijab in classrooms. She had also made mounted a political offensive on Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, saying that such things are happening under "new BJP".

"Incidents like preventing people from wearing hijabs and several other similar communal things are taking place only after the "new BJP'' has taken over the seat of power in the state, she said pointing out that such incidents against a community and its practices never took place during the term of BS Yediyurappa as Chief Minister," reported The New Indian Express.

Fatima also said they were "ready to go to any extent to protect our rights to wear our traditional attire".

"You all know that I too wear a hijab and sit in the state assembly. If somebody has guts, let them stop me and show it. Those who want to wear hijab or burkha will continue to wear it and it's our right to wear this outfit. Wearing a hijab is our culture and nobody has the right to prevent us from it. We are ready to go to any extent to protect our rights to wear our traditional attire," The Express quoted Fatima as saying last year.

Fatima termed the call to wear hijab as a right to wear traditional clothing.

"We are an independent nation and the country's constitution has given us the rights to practice our culture and tradition. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar has given the people the right to wear the dresses of their choice and nobody can stop us from it," Fatima was quoted as saying.

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