Karnataka girl wins prize in Kerala State Festival after switching school due to hijab ban

After bagging the first prize with “A grade” in Kannada speech this year, Afeefa K is not looking forward to compete the next Kerala State School Art Festival, claimed as Asia’s biggest art festival for school children.

The 16-year-old wants to return to Jog Falls, Karnataka’s major tourist attraction, where her grandfather migrated from Kerala start a business and settled.

“I miss them. its 535 kms from here,” she told Maktoob in broken Malayalam, trying to quantify the separation from her parents and three siblings — two sisters and one brother.

Afeefa, who was studying in 10th grade at Shimogga’s KPCL High School, was forced to drop out of school immediately after Karnataka government imposed hijab ban in February last year.

She now studies in Darunnajath HSS, a school in Karuvarakund, a town in Kerala’s Malappuram district and the native place of her grandfather.

“One day police and teachers called a meeting and told us that new uniform rules don’t allow headscarf. We were five girls who were wearing hijab in the class. Everyone stopped going to school,” Afeefa recalls. Although others wrote final exam removing headscarves, Afeefa couldn’t think of it.

Her teachers and classmates were “sad” about the situation and pleaded her to stay “somehow”.

“Hijab is not allowed for students until seventh grade in Karnataka. I finally got to wear it in 8th grade and it was just two years. I didn’t want to remove.”

Afeefa says her parents asked her to make the choice and they stood by her.

At the Arts Festival, that concluded on 7 January, the topic for Kannada speech was “role of voters in democracy”. Afeefa said she explained the misuse of voters and how it damages the society.

Unlike other contestants, who gets trained for the highly competitive event, Afeefa had no trainer in Kannada to help.

“Principal gave me topic and I translated it to Kannada and performed to him. I would later translate it to Malayalam for him to understand,” Afeefa explained the exhausting process while preparing for the fest.

She is waiting for the Supreme Court of India to decide on the hijab ban order issued by Karnataka High Court in February last year, which led to huge drop out of Muslim girls from educational institutions.

The split verdict of the Supreme Court delivered on 13 October 2022, has only prolonged the students’ wait for justice. The matter is now placed before the Chief Justice to constitute an appropriate Bench.

“There is an urgent need for the matter to be taken up expeditiously as Muslim women students continue to be denied their constitutional right to education, dignity and privacy,” a report by Karnataka chapter of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) stated.

Afeefa’s sister, who got promoted to 8th grade last year, got admitted to a private school run by Muslim management. She has to travel for an hour from their maternal home to reach school, Afeefa said.

Staying in school hostel, Afeefa only get to see her parents during vacation. She also plans to find a school in Mangalore, where hijab is allowed.

“I can be closer to home,” she added.