KARNATAKA’S ORDER banning the hijab in school education at the senior level may not have affected exam attendance or girls’ enrolment but in Udupi district, the epicentre of protests for and against the headscarf in the state, there has been a significant shift of Muslim students from government to private pre-university colleges (PUC), according to admissions data accessed by The Indian Express.
Data accessed by The Indian Express shows that while the number of Muslim students entering Class 11 (known as first PUC or PUC I in Karnataka) across all pre-university colleges in Udupi is almost the same (1,296 in 2021-22 to 1,320 in 2022-23), their enrolment in government PUCs has dropped by half from the previous year — the number is also the lowest in five years (see chart).
According to the data, 186 Muslim students were admitted to PUC I in government pre-university colleges in Udupi for 2022-23, after 388 in 2021-22. Of these, a gender break-up shows 91 Muslim girls were admitted to PUC I in government institutions as against 178 in 2021-22 and the enrolment of Muslim boys dropped from 210 to 95.
This drop is offset by an increase in their enrolment across private (or unaided) pre-university colleges in the district. In 2022-23, 927 students from the community enrolled in PUC I in unaided colleges as opposed to 662 in 2021-22. In addition, admission of Muslim boys shows an increase from 334 to 440 and girls from 328 to 487.
A case in point is Salihath PU College in Udupi. According to the private institution, 30 Muslim girls enrolled in PUC I (or Class 11) in 2021-22, and 57 in 2022-23. Aslam Haikady, administrator of Saliath Group of Education, said, “The enrollment of Muslim girls in our PU college has almost doubled for the first time. This is a testament to how the hijab issue has actually impacted them personally and academically.”
Habeeb Rehman, the principal of ALIhsan PU college, another private institution, said, “The trend in boys, too, may be because parents want them to stay away from any agitation on hijab. Considering the communalisation and politicisation of hijab in government PU colleges in Udupi, parents may have decided to ensure they focus on education and discipline in private PU colleges this academic year.”
When contacted, B C Nagesh, Karnataka’s Minister of School Education and Literacy, said, “When it comes to admission of students, we look at the overall students’ trend, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed. We don’t single out a particular community or section of students and assess their admission numbers. Eventually, we want to ensure that we deliver quality education to all students, irrespective of their background. We feel, the overall admission numbers of all students in government PU colleges have increased considerably compared to previous years. However, if at all there is a dip in the Muslim students’ numbers in Udupi government PU colleges, we will look into it.”
The latest trend comes at a time when there has been a steady increase in the number of Muslim girls going to schools and colleges in the state – the GAR (Gross Attendance Ratio) of Muslim women in higher education rose from a low of 1.1 per cent in 2007-08 to as high as 15.8 per cent in 2017-18, according to government surveys. GAR, in this context, is the ratio of Muslim women aged 18-23 years attending colleges to the total number of Muslim women in that age cohort.
Besides, all registered Muslim girl students had appeared in the final exam held in April 2022, according to the deputy directors of the PU (Pre-University) Board of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi.
Since then, the latest admissions data show, Udupi is the only district in the state where the number of Muslim girls in government PUCs has failed to cross double digits.
Overall, 4,971 students in all categories registered for PUC I in government institutions in Udupi in 2022-23 compared to 5,962 the previous year. Similarly, the overall enrolment in private PUCs in Udupi increased from 6,773 to 5,401.
The hijab row erupted early last year after six female students of the Government PU College in Udupi claimed they were not allowed to attend classes wearing them. This led to protests that spread to other districts and the state passing an order for students to stick to prescribed uniforms in PUC (Class 11 and 12) and degree colleges. In government colleges, the hijab is not part of the uniform, which rules out the headscarf on their campuses. At the same time, several private PUCs allow the hijab as part of their uniform.
Last year, a three-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court upheld the state government notification, holding that a restriction on school uniform does not violate fundamental rights. The High Court ruling was challenged before the Supreme Court, where a two-judge bench delivered a split verdict — the appeal will be heard afresh by a larger bench, which is yet to be constituted.
The trend underlined by the admissions data is pronounced in the Government PU College in Udupi, which was at the heart of the protests. Here, 41 Muslim girls enrolled in the first PU in 2021-22 — the highest since 2018-19. In 2022-23, the college had 27 new admissions in the same grade. Additionally, of the 41 in PUC I in 2021-22, only 29 graduated to the second PU (or Class 12).
Rudre Gowda, the college’s principal, said, “Out of the 12 Muslim girls who did not graduate from first to second PU, only two dropped out because of the hijab issue. Six did not pass the first PU exams. Four were long absentees. As far as the dip in Muslim girls’ enrolment (in first PUC this year) is concerned, there are chances that they would have preferred a college where hijab is allowed or closer to their homes.”
BJP leader Raghupati Bhat, the Udupi MLA and president of the college’s development committee, said, “We are looking at the overall enrolment of girls in our college which is 365 this year, a three-year high. There is no discrimination based on education because of hijab here. We are just ensuring equality by enforcing a common dress code. Moreover, the girls are being influenced by external players like CFI and PFI, who are discouraging them from attending government schools in order to strengthen their case in the Supreme Court.”
Hussain Kodibengre, a convenor of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights in Udupi and one of the petitioners in the hijab case in Supreme Court, said, “Threatening statements by some BJP leaders have instilled fear amongst the girls, which is forcing them to discontinue government college and join an unaided college. We are counselling the girls consistently to stay away from anti-social elements, to comply with the High Court order and to focus on education until there is a final resolution in the Supreme Court.”