By Our Correspondent
JAIPUR – In a stark reminder of the two-year-old controversy over the dress code in Karnataka, a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA’s offensive remarks on Hijab and his insistence on raising the Hindu religious slogans during the Republic Day function at a government school in Jaipur led to strong protests by the Muslim girl students. Hundreds of girls, accompanied by their parents and relatives, staged a massive demonstration outside a nearby police station.
The Muslim girl students of the Government Senior Secondary School at Gangapol staged the protest outside Subhash Chowk police station here on January 29, demanding registration of first information report against BJP MLA from Hawa Mahal constituency, Balmukund Acharya, as well as an apology by him. Acharya had not only passed controversial remarks against Hijab, but also forced Muslim girls to chant slogans in the school during the function.
Acharya’s remarks were also video-recorded and the video clips went viral on social media platforms in Rajasthan and elsewhere. In the videos, the BJP MLA is heard telling the school staff: “What is this Hijab business? The atmosphere gets spoiled because of Hijab, stop Hijab here. Are these students who have come wearing Hijab married? How do they breathe wearing Hijab?”
Acharya also raised slogans, such as Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Jai Shri Ram and Saraswati Mata Ki Jai, during the function. When some students did not join him in raising the slogans, he asked them if someone had instructed them not to do so. He was then seen in the video clips forcing all the students to chant the Hindu religious slogans.
The girl students, who blocked the roads and staged the demonstration outside the police station, raised the slogans such as ‘Baba Mafi Mangega’ (the seer will have to apologise), ‘Hijab Hamari Jan Hai’ (Hijab is our life) and ‘Hum Hijab Nahin Chhodenge’ (we will not leave Hijab). Acharya, who is always dressed in saffron attire, is one of the four Hindu seers fielded by the BJP as its candidates in the 2023 Rajasthan Assembly election. He is the head of the Hathoj Dham, situated near Jaipur.
The girls who staged the protest said the BJP MLA had come to the school to attend the annual function. “We welcomed him, but we were told that Hijab is not allowed in the school. He asked how the girls can breathe while wearing Hijabs. He should apologise,” the girls told reporters. The protesters gave two days to the administration to get an apology from the MLA and their memorandum was forwarded to the Jaipur Collector.
Senior police officers reached the spot to ensure that the protest does not lead to communal tension in the city or create a law and order situation. The police officers talked to the protesters to pacify them and assured them that their complaint would be looked into and the matter investigated.
Congress MLA from Jaipur’s Adarsh Nagar, Rafiq Khan, tried to raise the issue during the ongoing session of the State Assembly, while affirming that Acharya had violated his oath of office by making objectionable and unconstitutional remarks on the very day when the implementation of the Constitution was being celebrated. However, the Assembly Speaker did not allow him to speak more in connection with the matter.
Rafiq Khan and Congress MLA from Jaipur’s Kishanpol constituency, Amin Kagzi, joined the demonstration and left the venue along with the protesting girls and their parents and relatives in the evening after submitting the written complaint at the police station and giving the administration two days for taking action in the matter.
On the other hand, Acharya remained defiant and refused to tender any kind of apology. The MLA told reporters in the Assembly that he had only asked the school’s Principal about the dress code rules.
“I asked the Principal that when there is a programme on January 26 or an annual festival in a government school, is there a provision for two different dresses? The Principal said the students do not follow the dress code,” he said.
Acharya said the girls were either in Hijab or in Burqa during the programme in the school. “There were two types of atmosphere visible there. So, I had asked the Principal about the dress code,” he said. “Why are there two types of dress codes in schools? I did not go to madrasas and ask them to change their dress. They have their rules,” he said while refusing to apologise.
The BJP MLA also said that if this situation persisted, the Hindu children may also come to the school wearing Lehenga-Chunni and colourful dresses. He said the school authorities should guide the girl students about the dress code which they were required to follow.
Forty-eight-year-old Acharya, who is the first-time MLA having switched over from religious activities to politics, has hit the headlines for his controversial statements ever since he won the election with a narrow margin of 900 votes. A case was registered against him at the intervention of the court in a case of assault and abuse of a person. His videos of giving a warning to the non-vegetarian restaurants in the Walled City of Jaipur and asking the local officials to take action against alleged encroachments by meat shops also went viral.
In the case of Karnataka Hijab ban, which was imposed in December 2021, the restriction has affected the Muslim girl students disproportionately, especially after they could not get any relief from the Karnataka High Court and then the Supreme Court which delivered a split verdict in October 2022 and referred the matter to a larger Bench. The new Karnataka Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, heading the Congress government, has been evasive on the issue of lifting the restriction and stated that such a move was being contemplated, as the matter required further deliberation.