The horde was howling, like a cackle of hyenas driven wild by the sight of prey.
This was no mob of medieval marauders but Narendra Modi’s New India in the flower of its youth, wearing saffron shawls and amping up “Jai Shri Ram” into a war cry.
But Bibi Muskan did not flinch.
The lone girl parked her two-wheeler, strode towards her class and looked to her left, where young men sporting saffron scarves shouted slogans at her. The most audible slogan was what worshippers of Lord Ram chant with devotion: “Jai Shri Ram.”
Muskan shouted back “Allah hu Akbar” multiple times and “Hijab is my right” and walked on, with the screaming boys who followed her heckling and hounding her.
The chilling pursuit straight out of the Dark Ages was playing itself out on the premises of PES College of Science, Arts and Commerce, located on the Bangalore-Mysore highway in Mandya town, 100km from the Silicon Valley of India.
The second-year BCom student again shouted “Allah hu Akbar” to counter the sloganeering. “What’s the problem if I wear a burqa? Who are you to tell me to remove the burqa?”
She was then herded into the college building by two men, apparently employees of the college.
The incident unfolded as the rest of Karnataka witnessed protests for and against the hijab, the headscarf that has become a polarising issue in the BJP-ruled state ever since a government college in Udupi denied entry to eight Muslim girls to their classes for wearing it.
Thousands of boys and girls wearing saffron scarves protested at several colleges across the state on Tuesday even as Karnataka High Court heard a batch of petitions seeking the right to wear the headscarf mandated by Islam. The court that heard both sides adjourned the matter till Wednesday.
The issue has assumed such proportions that the state government declared a three-day holiday from Wednesday for all educational institutions in view of the unrest and the ongoing hearing in the high court.
Police clamped prohibitory orders for two days under Section 144 of the CrPC in Shimoga town where saffron-clad students resorted to hurling stones. A few students suffered minor injuries in the baton charge that followed.
Riot police in Davangere fired several rounds of tear gas shells as an anti-hijab protest turned violent and students threw stones at policemen. They were eventually dispersed.
At least three colleges in Udupi district witnessed heavy protests by saffron-clad students who shouted slogans against the hijab. More than 100 male students wearing saffron scarves confronted their female Muslim college mates at MGM Pre-University College and a degree college located on the same campus in Udupi.
Muslim girls who were protesting outside the college gates were confronted by a large number of boys wearing saffron scarves. The girls chanted “We want justice” against their college mates in saffron scarves and headgear chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. But some college employees who formed a buffer between the two groups managed to push back the boys and avoid any untoward incident.
Male students at Government Pre-University College at Banahatti in Bagalkot district boycotted classes and protested against the hijab on the campus.
The standoff that started when the Government Pre-University College in Udupi town disallowed hijab-wearing students from attending classes late in December has since become the catalyst for the ongoing statewide protests for and against the headscarf. Sangh parivar groups such as the Hindu Jagarana Vedike have openly lent support to the saffron-scarf campaign.
The state government had on Saturday invoked Section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, to direct college authorities to insist on uniform by banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges”.