Two Muslim women on Thursday accused officials conducting the National Eligibility Test (NET) in Panaji and in Delhi of not allowing them to appear for the examination after they refused to take off their hijab. Safina Khan Soudagar (24) alleged that when she arrived at the examination center in Panaji, Goa on Tuesday, December 18, the supervisor there asked her to remove her hijab. However, when she refused to do so, the official did not allow her to sit for the test. In a similar incident in Delhi, 23-year-old, Umaiyah Khan accused officials conducting NET of not allowing her to appear for her exam after she refused to take offer her hijab.
Umaiyah took to Twitter to share her ordeal and accused the government of violating her constitutional rights to freely practice her religion.
Soudagar said that she checked the website concerned before applying for the exam. “Nowhere does it say anything about hijab or dress code.” NET officials, however, said that hijab and other accessories are not allowed to prevent cheating during the exams.
“Removing hijab in public is against my Islamic belief. It was a question whether I wanted to take the exam or not. So I chose to keep my faith above the (academic) loss,” Soudagar said. She is a writer who holds a postgraduate degree in psychology and had queued up outside the exam centre at 1 pm on December 18. “When I reached the inspecting official, he looked at my documents, he looked at me and asked me to remove my head scarf, saying I will not be allowed inside the examination hall with it,” she said. Soudagar told the official that removing the scarf would go against her religious beliefs. The official then asked Soudagar to show her ears to confirm her identity.
“I eventually agreed to show my ears and asked the officials to direct me to the washroom so I could readjust my hijab,” she said. “They refused to direct me towards the washroom. Removing hijab in public is against my Islamic belief because there were a lot of men around.” Soudagar addressed a complaint to Goa Education Secretary Nila Mohanan in which she described the sequence of events, The Hindu reported. Soudagar said she will also write to Union Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar and approach the State Human Rights Commission, “so that such injustice does not affect other persons, irrespective of communities, in the future”.
Later on Facebook, she posted: “In a democratic country, a secular society, in a forward state like Goa, I was not allowed to answer an exam that I had all rights to, simply because I valued my modesty, my religious beliefs and identity more than their system.” NET is a test to determine eligibility for college and university level lectureship and for the award of the junior research fellowship.
According to a report by Scroll.in, an unidentified official of the Directorate of Higher Education in Panaji said that no accessory is allowed in the exam ccenterin order “to prevent cheating and also from a security point of view”. A female candidate is also required to remove her “mangalsutra”, which is a sacred necklace worn by married Hindu women, said the official.
“There are stringent guidelines by the University Grants Commission to ensure that the examination is held in a very transparent manner and the officials were only following it,” he added.
Responding to the complaints, the Delhi Minorities Commission in a statement said that, while security precautions are required, but the same should not be used to harm the interests of minority individuals, especially students. The Commission has ordered all government departments and educational institutions to allow Muslim women appearing for exams with hijabs after they have been frisked for security by the staff of the same sex. They said that Muslim women cannot be denied their religious duty to observe the hijab, and warned that failure to comply with their order will attract legal action by the Commission.