Kashmir: Vishwa Bharati School bans burqa; backtracks after outrage

The principal has denied all allegations against her stating that the school has its own dress code which allows white cotton hijab, but only a few girls wear burqas.

Srinagar: Several female students of Vishwa Bharti Higher Secondary School in the Rainwari area of Srinagar staged a demonstration outside the school against the principal on Thursday for allegedly banning the burqa or abaya (a full loose gown-like covering donned by Muslim women) in the school.

In a purported video clip which is going viral on social media platforms, protesting students alleged that they were barred from entering the school premises for wearing a burqa, following an order by the principal.

“We have been asked to remove the burqa and enter the school premises. When we objected to the order, they told us we must go to a Madrassa instead,” the student said.

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The students stated that they do not have an objection to students donning any dress but expressed distress over being barred owing to their choice of dressing.

The female student further alleged that the principal used derogatory terms while encountering the pupils over the issue.

“Ap log yaha ka mahol kharab karte ho. Abaya (or burqa) pehenke kaand kartey ho aur apne ghar walon ka naam kharab karte ho (you wear ‘Abaya’ and pollute the environment of the school, you are scandalous and are ruining the name of your parents too),” the female students quoted the principal as saying.

The students alleged that the principal has made efforts to convert the girls’ school into a co-educational institution.

Meanwhile, in an interview with a local news portal, the principal denied all allegations against her. She said that the school has its own dress code which allows white cotton hijab, but only a few girls wear burqas.

“There is no higher authority involved in it. I believe in uniformity which is being followed everywhere, shall be followed here as well,” the principal stated.

When asked if she has used any derogatory terms against burqa/abaya-wearing students, she denied it and said, “I only said Abaya can’t be the judge of a girl’s character. A girl not wearing Abaya doesn’t make her characterless and a girl wearing it does not become of character.”

She further stated, “We will allow Abayas now, however, with a condition, colourful designed Abayas won’t be allowed here.”

Following the outrage over the issue, the National Conference (NC) chief spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq said that it was unfortunate to witness such incidents in the Muslim-majority Union territory.

“Wearing a hijab should be a personal choice, and there should be no interference in matters of religious attire. It is unfortunate to witness such incidents in a Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir,” Sadiq said in a tweet.

Nasirul Islam, Grand Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir, said that while the school has issued a clarification, girls have a right to protect their modesty by wearing the burqa.

“A rebuttal has been issued by the educational institution that they have not issued any order banning the abaya. The school, which was earlier for girls only, has now become a co-educational school. Hence, the girls have all the right to wear burqa to maintain their modesty,” Islam said.

BJP General Secretary, Ashok Koul said his party was not in favour of imposing dress codes.

“It’s a religious issue. We are neither against it, nor in its favour. A person is free to wear whatever she wants. If anyone wants to wear a saree or salwar, there should be no compulsion in it.

“Every person is free to wear clothes of their choice,” Koul said.

Darakshan Andrabi, the first woman chairperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board, was the sole voice supporting the ban.

“Colleges have a uniform, which is compulsory. Every profession works as per a dress code be it teachers’ or doctors’. The education system will deteriorate if the students don’t wear the uniform,” Andrabi said.

What is Abaya or Burqa?

Burqa or Abaya is an Arabic term, sometimes also called an aba. It is a simple robe-like dress, loose over-garment worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world including North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and most of the Middle East, Traditional abayas or burqas are usually black and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders.

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