WB: Muslim girls fight hijab ban in police recruitment

Denying 30,000 plus applicants admit cards for the preliminary examination to recruit constables, the West Bengal Police Recruitment Board conducted the exam on 26th September. After issuing admit cards on 6th September, several applications were found rejected for uploading photos with headscarves and for other mistakes while filling the form. 

Out of the rejected 30,000, around 1000 forms were that of Muslim girls, solely dismissed for wearing headscarves in the photos attached with the forms. The WBPRM guidelines 2020 clearly state that the applicants’ faces should not be covered in any way in the photos.

“Applicants are advised not to upload images of other objects in place of photograph and signature. The photograph with face/head covering, sunglass/tinted glasses covering the eyes will not be accepted. Photographs cropped from ‘groupies’ or ‘selfies’ shall also be disallowed during the scrutiny,” WBPRM guidelines 2020 reads. 

But when Maktoob checked out the guidelines of 2019, there was no mention of face/head covering being unacceptable, which seemed uncanny because this is a recently installed rule. 

“Applicants are required to upload a scanned copy of their recent passport size photograph (Preferably coloured) and full signature in JPG format covering the entire space provided for the same. The photograph must be on white background, with 75-80% of the photo occupying the applicant’s face. Applicants are advised not to upload images of other objects in place of photograph and signature,” WBPRM guidelines 2019 read.

Tuhina Khatoon, one of the rejected applicants from Murshidabad, visited the office of West Bengal Police in Biddhanagar to know why her application went dismissed. “I talked to one of the officers and asked him to look at the form, and he told me I was rejected for my headscarf. I reminded him that I am a Muslim and how it’s my fundamental right to follow my religion as the constitution allows me to do so. But he kept on repeating how it is a compulsory rule,” Khatoon says.

“I don’t get it as to why they have such a rule for headscarves even when knowing the fact that Muslim women wear so. They have accepted the applications of Sikh men who wear turbans but not us. If they’re following the rule, then why is there an exception for them, alone?” Tuhina Khatoon raised her concerns.

Tuhina told Maktoob how the officer said they can do whatever they want, even go to the supreme court, but no one will listen to their plight.

After failed attempts to get her application accepted, Khatoon said, “We were rushed out of the gate, and another officer threatened that if we don’t leave immediately, not only will we be arrested and but also our careers ruined.”

“I told them how it doesn’t make sense because to identify a candidate in the hall their face has to stay uncovered, not the hair,” says Mafikul Islam, former National Secretary of the Students Islamic Organisation of India

His niece is one of the rejected candidates. 

When Islam enquired about the rejection of his niece’s application, he was also told the same reason for the headscarf.

A petition has been filed in the Calcutta High Court by 5 Candidates: Sonamani Khatun, Kubra Khatun, Sarika Parveen Khatun, Hapiza Khatun and Asia Khatun challenging the rule to get it deleted from the guidelines. 

“This rule was introduced all of a sudden, even when knowing that Muslim women wear headscarves. It targets the women of my community and denies our right to be educated, our right to work and earn for ourselves”.

Emphasising the necessity to withdraw the rule, Khatoon shares, “We worked so hard for this exam, studied day and night. They can’t target any religion like this. They should think about this. The girls of my community are ambitious; I am ambitious, I want to be educated, and I want to achieve something in life. I want to be an IS officer. I want to help my people. And the reason I wanted to clear the WBPR exam is job security. And the officer who threatened us should apologise for such behaviour.”

Maktoob contacted Mr Subrata Ganguli, one of the WBP board members, who said, “The rule was decided by the board, irrespective of any religion and gender. It is written in the information brochure that no kind of head or face cover is acceptable.

“As far as I have seen, no Punjabi candidate applied for the recruitment. But they were allowed to wear the turban, and at the time of the physical measurement test, we requested them to remove it. When I am applying for any exam, I go through the guidelines, and I agree with the rules if I am applying. The information brochure clearly stated how any head/face cover would lead to rejection of the form”.

Mr Ganguli declined to comment to the new guideline that excludes Muslims.