TDN World Desk: Practicing religion by wearing hijab and appearing for a NET exam cannot happen at the same time? The question becomes valid and inevitably relevant one. At least after December 18, Thursday, when two Muslim women were denied permission to appear for NET exam by the officials in the exam centre just because they were wearing hijab (head scarf). 

Two Muslim women, Safina Khan Soudagar (24) and Umaiyah Khan (23) accused officials conducting National Eligibility Test (NET) in Panaji, Goa and in Delhi of not allowing them to appear for the examination after they refused to take off their hijab. 

Safina Khan Soudagar alleged that when she arrived at the examination centre in Panaji, Goa on Tuesday, the exam supervising officer there asked her to remove her hijab. But when she refused to do so, the official did not allow her to sit for the test. In a similar incident, in Delhi, another candidate Umaiyah Khan, alleged that she was not allowed by officials conducting NET to appear for her exam due to her refusal to remove hijab. 

Umaiyah took the issue to Twitter. She shared her ordeal and accused the government of violating constitutional rights by inhibiting her constitutional right to freely practice her religion.

NET is conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to determine eligibility for college and University level lectureship and for the award of junior research fellowship. Though, this year the exam was conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA). 

Soudagar said, before applying for the exam she had gone through the rules on the website concerned and nowhere their dress code was mentioned. “There was nothing regarding hijab or dress code”. 

The NET supervisors, however maintained that hijab and other accessories are not allowed into the exam hall to prevent cheating.  

“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 Kerala my faith above the (academic) loss,” Soudagar said. 

Later, she posted on her Facebook wall: “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”.

Violation of Government Order

It is to be noted that, prior to these incidents, complaints were lodged from Muslims and Sikh Minorities to the Delhi Minorities Commission about their persecution on the pretext of security and frisking, so much so that affected persons are at times seriously harmed and prevented from attending an examination or test or interview or catching a train when so-called security requirements are used without considering the victims’ religious beliefs. 

Responding to the complaints, on behalf of Delhi government, Delhi Minorities Commission issued an order on 9th Oct.2018 regarding dress code for exams/tests/interview etc where the Commission clearly states, ” when certain security arrangements and frisking are required, candidates must be clearly informed in advance that they have to present themselves at the frisking point say half an hour before normal reporting time”. 

But Muslim women cannot be denied their religious duty to observe hijab (wearing head scarf), the order signed by Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, Chairman of the Minorities Commission and two other members Kartar Singh Kocchar and Anastasia Gill stated. 

Citing Article 25 of Indian constitution, the commission also asserted the Sikh minority people’s right to wear Kripans. “All government departments, especially educational institutions, are directed to meticulously observe this order. Failure to do so will attract legal action by the commission”, the order unambiguously and sternly stated.

Watch the interview of Umaiyah Khan (Courtesy: SIO of India)