Hyderabad: Truth behind viral tweet over Sweekar Institute’s burqa ban

The issue at hand, which has gone amiss is more significant than the discussion on burqa. If the students' accounts are anything to go by, the sexist abuses and insults hurled at the Muslim women is the main concern to be addressed.

Hyderabad: Even as the hijab ban in Karnataka schools simmers, a student claiming to be enrolled in the Sweekar Academy of Rehabilitation Sciences (SARS) here also alleged that the Chairman of her institute reportedly asked Muslim female students to not wear the hijab or the burqa.

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The student who goes by the name Fatima on Twitter took to the microblogging site on February 10 and wrote the same, which soon garnered the attention of many people online. With her tweet going viral, people have come out in support of the Muslim girls and the institute has been at the receiving end of criticism.

The sequence of events:

Fatima’s tweet, corroborated by other students garnered enough heat as the officials from the Telangana police’s Intelligence department were questioning the management of the institute on Thursday. The institute’s Chairman initially stated in the early hours of Thursday morning that while the hijab was not an issue, the burqa was banned. However, by afternoon the issue seems to have been resolved as students dressed in burqa were allowed to enter the campus premises.

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Fatima corroborated the same on Twitter and stated that the Chairman has apologised.

However, the issue at hand, which has gone amiss is more significant than the discussion on the burqa. If the students’ accounts are anything to go by, the sexist abuses and insults hurled at the Muslim women is the main concern to be addressed.

Siasat.com managed to get in touch with a few students from the institution and also reached out to the management to find out the truth.

Sexist abuses and the shroud over burqa ban:

“He said that with the face masks, our hijab, we Muslims look like mehtranis (urdu word for toilet-cleaners),” recounted Husna*, a first-year student enrolled in B.Ed (with a specialisation in intellectual disability) at Sweekar Academy of Rehabilitation Sciences (SARS).

Husna was narrating a meeting she found herself in with the Chairman of SARS, Dr P Hanumantha Rao on February 5. The meeting, she claims, was arbitrarily conducted without proper cause. Around 25 other Muslim women, along with Husna are also alleged to have been present at the meeting.

Rao apparently wanted to let the women know that going forward, they were not allowed to adorn the hijab, wear the burqa, and had to start wearing sarees.

“He also wanted it made known that Muslim students will not be allowed to offer Friday namaz in the college premises,” added Ayesha*, another student enrolled in the same Academy.

The two statements could be added to the list of other abuses Rao is alleged to have hurled at the Muslim female students. As per Husna and Ayesha’s accounts, he is also said to have called them “beggar-like” before he went on to add that “this was his Institute and nobody would tell him how to run it.”

“We were only informed that we had to go and meet the Chairman of the institute and we were asked by our teacher to dress decently. We had no idea that this would follow,” said a shocked Ayesha. She added that during enrollment, the checklist for the dress code did not discuss the complete abandonment of the hijab.

Husna, finds herself perturbed by the insistence on doing away with her hijab and wearing the sari. “Hum apne aap ko sambhale, ya bachon ko dekhe? (Should we handle ourselves or work with the children?) Also, considering that some of the faculty are men, a sari would make me uncomfortable as I could risk showing skin which I don’t want to” she stated.

The story was further corroborated by another student Faiza* who remarked that Rao went on to hurl insults at the students. “He said agar burqa pehnna hain toh ghar pe bhaito, aur bartan manjo. (If you insist on wearing the burqa, stay at home and wash vessels,” claims Faiza.

When asked why the burqa ban was so bothersome if the hijab was permitted, Faiza remarked that she is comfortable with the outer garment and finds herself uneasy without it.

The argument being made time again by people in favour of the hijab ban is that religion should be kept out of educational institutes. But as Husna noted, the SARS campus has a temple established in its premises to aid children with disabilities in rehabilitation.

“If religious symbols are so bad, why is there a temple on campus?” asks Husna.

In the time, when this reporter was waiting to gather further information from SARS on Thursday morning, a priest, identifying himself as Kiran Kumaracharya walked into the academy premises, thus adding weight to Husna’s statements.

When asked about the same the priest said he holds prayers every day here at the temple inside the Institute premises.

Chairman Rao denies discriminating against students

Speaking to Siasat.com, the chairman of Sweekar Academy of Rehabilitation Sciences, Dr P Hanumantha Rao, denied all the claims made by the students and stated that there was no abusive language used. However, he added that the burqa posed a practical problem.

“The institute works with children suffering from intellectual and other forms of disabilities. I did say that the burqa should not be worn while working with children with disabilities as it scares them and they are hard to console post that. These are children suffering from autism and other issues. We cannot have them disturbed,” he stated.

As for the insistence on the sari, Dr Rao said, “Ye leggings, jeggings aur Palazzos main ladkiyan aaye toh decorum kharab ho jaata, affairs hote (If girls turn up in leggings, jeggings and palazzos the decorum is comprised, children start developing romantic interests).”

While the statements are questionable in nature, at the current juncture there is no proof of brazen or any kind of Islamophobia.

However, adding weight to the Chairman’s testimony, a student (requesting anonymity), informed Siasat.com outside SARS that there has been no form of discrimination. “While we are asked to remove our burqas on entering the campus and we comply, we don’t have to remove our hijabs. No one has ever asked us to do so,” she stated.

This was further clarified by two other burqa-clad students right outside the college premises.

While the issue is resolved, the students are still upset about the fact that they were asked to remove their burqa and seem keen on wanting the larger issue to be addressed.

(Names of all the students mentioned in the article have been changed to protect their identity.)

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Anjana Meenakshi

With a master's degree in English literature from University of Hyderabad. Aside from journalism, I am interested in browsing classics, writing fiction, and figuring out what relevance art holds in society today.
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