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Can schools in Bangladesh require students to wear hijab as part of uniforms?

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Even before that, the government had said in a notice that no student could be punished for not wearing a burqa or hijab.

However, some institutions in Muslim-majority Bangladesh still require students of all religions to wear the burqa, topi or hijab, arguing that religious dress is part of the uniform.

Ad-din Sakina Medical College is one of them. Female students of all religions at the Jashore institution are required to wear the hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women.

Girls must submit written consent to this upon admission.

The issue of institutions forcing students to wear the hijab, or topi for men, has made headlines in Bangladesh after recent protests against the ban on Muslim headscarves in educational institutions in India’s Karnataka.

Although institutional authorities associate religious dress with uniforms, sociologists consider such clothing to be religious symbols.

Sadeka Halim, a sociology professor at the University of Dhaka, believes that clothing helps create religious identity. People wear clothes such as the hijab as part of the practice of purdah, a religious and social tradition of seclusion of women.

She thinks the decision to mandate a uniform involving such clothing comes from a religious perspective.

“Some schools require students to wear a hijab or topi. Students of other religions are also required to wear them as part of their school uniform,” she said.

Dress codes in schools and colleges generally aim to facilitate equal treatment of all students. Requiring students to wear religious attire may defeat this purpose.

Sumona Biswas, a teacher at Nalanda High School in Dhaka, said uniforms should blur all distinctions between students, regardless of what religion they belong to.

“Everyone will have distinct clothing, religious and political preferences in their personal lives. But with a group, they all seem equal if they look alike. The differences are diminishing. »

The High Court says no one can be forced to wear religious clothing and the Department of Education supplements the directive with its own instructions. But the practical implications of these rules are absent in the Ad-din Medical College dress code, which is a concern of the Ad-din Foundation.

He fixed different dresses for students up to the fifth grade. All include head coverings like hijabs.

Principal Kamal Uddin Ahmed insists that these are long scarves.

“Dress code includes salwar kameez and headscarves. A particular color is for each year to help identify students by their session,” he said.

“The permanent wearing of a scarf around the head is not compulsory. There is no such rule. Some wear it around their necks, others on their heads,” said Kamal Uddin.

According to him, 58 of the medical school’s 330 students are non-Muslims, while 87 come from abroad, mainly India. Some of them come from Nepal.

Other educational institutions under the Ad-din Foundation also have hijab mandates.

Although the rules of Ibn Sina Medical College in Kalyanpur are similar, Principal Mohibul Aziz seemed oblivious to them.

“I see a lot of them wearing [hijab]. I didn’t really notice. The girls wear them voluntarily.

A student from the Banasree branch of the Ideal Institute Faizur Rahman said those who don’t have a topi or hijab are not allowed to attend classes at the institute.

Several students at Motijheel Ideal School and College said that arriving at school without a topi or hijab is met with criticism from teachers.

However, Abu Hena Morshed Zaman, chairman of the institution’s board of trustees, claimed that the mandate to wear the religious blankets was lifted in 2020 and made voluntary.

Mentioning that students should not be treated harshly for not wearing them, the government secretary said, “It is true that there are devout teachers at Motijheel Ideal School. They probably feel the need to continue this practice [of rebuking students for not wearing topi or hijab] regardless of the new school rules.

Tania Haque, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Dhaka, said: “We always associate the topi and hijab with Muslims. It represents religion, as well as culture.

She suggested that more research is needed on the recent surge of girls wearing hijab to find out if fear of violence and fashion trends are major factors.

“The educational institutions use their power to force them to wear religious clothes.”

In 2010, the Rani Bhabani Women’s College in Natore made headlines by imposing the burqa as its uniform.

Later that year, Judge AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury and Judge Sheikh Mohammad Zakir Hossain delivered a verdict declaring that everyone has religious freedom in Bangladesh, which is a secular state. Thus, no one can be forced to wear religious clothing such as the burqa and the taqiyah, a cap, against their will.

The order came on the back of a suo-moto rule earlier that year by the same bench which stated that no woman may be forced to wear the burqa at work and in educational institutions and that She cannot be prevented from taking part in cultural or sporting activities.

The Ministry of Education had previously issued a notice ordering all institutions to make religious clothing voluntary and prohibiting any harassment or punishment of female students in this regard.

Authorities threatened an investigation and legal action if the orders were violated.

Justice Shamsuddin, who retired as an appeals division judge, said institutions are violating court orders by forcing students to wear religious attire. In this case, the injured parties or the victims can file contempt of court charges against them.

“Everyone is obligated to follow court orders. People who violate these orders should be imprisoned. Because they commit a punishable offence.

“The Education Secretary has been tasked with ensuring that all schools follow orders. If he does not take action against this, he too should be punished. Someone needs to write a letter to the secretary asking him why he is not enforcing the orders stating that he is also in contempt of court.

Professor Sadeka Halim also believes that the administration should take action against such violation of the rules.

“The state needs to determine if all schools should require students to wear headscarves. Many voluntarily wear the hijab, it’s different. But no one can be forced.

Professor Tania said: “Educational institutions cannot introduce [burqa, hijab, topi] as a uniform. The Ministry of Education will decide. We send our children to school to educate them. If the authorities impose something on them, the state must take responsibility.

Attempts to contact the Secretary of the Secondary and Higher Education Division, Md Abu Bakar Siddique, went unanswered.