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Karnataka Hijab Row: Judge Refers Issue To Larger Bench

Reports say, an Indian state has shut high schools and colleges for three days after a row over the hijab that has gained international attention after Nobel Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai weighed in.

The government of Karnataka state in southern India took the decision after protests by students over Muslim women wearing headscarves in the classroom escalated into violence.

On Wednesday, the state’s high court, which was hearing two petitions filed on behalf of some of the Muslim women, requested the chief justice to set up a larger bench to deliberate the matter.

The developments occurred after protests by six teenage students at a government-run college over wearing hijabs spread to other colleges.

Several Hindu students then turned up wearing saffron shawls – the colour seen as a Hindu symbol – to protest against Muslim women wearing hijabs.

On Tuesday, Malala – who was 15 when she survived an attack by the Taliban in Pakistan for speaking up for the right of girls to be educated – called on India’s leaders to do something to “stop the marginalisation of Muslim women”.

“Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying,” the 24-year-old activist tweeted. “Objectification of women persists – for wearing less or more.”

In India, the stand-off has increased fear and anger among minority Muslims, who say the country’s constitution grants them the freedom to wear what they want.

On Tuesday, viral videos showed a Muslim woman being heckled by a mob of young men shouting slogans, and heated arguments between students wearing hijabs and saffron shawls.

The issue began gaining attention when six teenage students at a government-run pre-university college – equivalent to a high school – in Karnataka’s Udupi district began protesting over being barred from classes for wearing a hijab.

Udupi is one of three districts in Karnataka’s communally sensitive coastal region – a stronghold of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Commentators often describe the region as a laboratory for majoritarian Hindu politics. The BJP is also in power in Karnataka.

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