|‘We were friends once but not any more’
PANJA VILLAGE (SULLIA TALUK): This remote village, 100 kilometres from Mangalore, was branded the “Chikungunya capital” of Dakshina Kannada district after the 2008 outbreak of the disease.
However, the village is gaining another kind of notoriety now. It is here that the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has successfully enforced a ban in the Government Composite Pre-University College on Muslim girls wearing the burkha.
The issue has divided the local community and the student body along communal lines.
Within a week of the ban being approved by the college authorities, the ABVP held a meeting at a nearby temple where over 200 students of the college participated, claimed Hindu Jagarana Vedike district Secretary Lakshmisha Gobbalathadka, the self-proclaimed architect of the ban.
A 17-year-old 1st PU student of the college, attended the meeting as his group of friends were going. He was the only Muslim in the group.
“At the meeting they said a lot of hurtful things about my religion,” he said. Once outside, his friend apologised for bringing him along.
Today, his friend is a leader of the ABVP in the college. He told The Hindu: “We were friends once but not any more… I was immature then.” None of his former mates speak to him now.
Another 17-year-old girl student is in tears because her friend, a Hindu, who used to walk back home with her ever since primary school, has stopped talking to her. When asked about their friendship the Hindu girl said, “I want to talk to her, but if I do it will create trouble for both of us.”
Daily harassment Many girl students spoke to The Hindu about the humiliation they face every day. One of them said, “All the other girls have started calling us ‘Damar Dabbi’ (boxful of tar). They have come up with rhymes that poke fun at our outfits.”
According to her, every time she and her friends put on or take off their burkha, a few boys and girls start clapping or chanting “Jai Sri Ram”. Her classmate claimed that some students regularly take her headscarf from her bag and hide it.
The bullying extends outside the campus. An elderly woman told The Hindu in confidence that some men forced her to take off her burkha when she was walking back home one evening. “When I agreed, they began to celebrate and raised slogans of ‘Bharat mata ki jai’,” she said.
Panja Gram Panchayat president C.M. Rafique said that Hindus, Muslims and Christians of the village had worked together to bring the chikungunya epidemic under control.
“But today, some vested interests have divided the whole village over a trivial issue,” he lamented.
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