When a Muslim teacher in Bengal was harassed and intimidated for refusing to wear a burqa
The hijab dispute, which originated on the Karnataka coast, has sparked waves of outrage across India. Muslims in many states have taken to the streets to demand the right to wear the hijab/burqa inside school and university campuses, in violation of existing uniform dress codes. As in many other states, pro-hijab protests have also surfaced in West Bengal.
Nearly 500 Muslim students from Aliah University, an autonomous university under state government, took to the streets last week with placards, waving slogans to protest the ongoing hijab controversy that is raging in several educational institutions in Karnataka.
Interestingly, this is the same college whose students forced a teacher to resign in 2010 for not wearing a burqa on college campus. Eight teachers were reportedly coerced by Aliah University students to wear burqas at the university even though the university had no dress code. While seven teachers bowed to the demands, one teacher, Shirin Middya, 24, refused to bow to the pressure and opted to quit instead.
Shirin Middya, 24 at the time, was hired as a guest lecturer to teach Bengali literature at Aliah University in Kolkata, the first Islamic university in West Bengal, in March 2010. During the second week of April that year, she had received a diktat from the student union that required all female lecturers to wear the burqa at university.
“In mid-April, the student union called us and told the eight teachers to wear burkas. The student union said not to discuss it with the authorities, just follow our order. We forced the students to wear burqas, if you don’t you will have to leave work,” Shirin informed then, adding that she had no objection to wearing a burqa, but she would. his own free will.
The students’ union had denied using coercion but admitted that it was offering to wear the burqa in keeping with the tradition of Calcutta High Madarsa, where Aliah University has a campus.
Students at Aliah University in West Bengal had posted posters harassing teachers who did not wear burkas
“We told the authorities that it was a madarsa. The way she dressed, it was a horror for us. The university does not have a dress code, but that does not mean that you can violate the madarsa tradition. We felt bad. So we objected,” said Md. Atiqur Rehman, General Secretary of Kolkata Madarsa Student Union.
The harassment was so severe that the student union even posted posters stating, “Those who refuse to wear the burqa must leave. Faced with threats, the majority of teachers backed down. In the end, Shirin was the only woman standing.
Fearing unrest, the university transferred Shirin Middya to its Salt Lake campus as an assistant librarian. She had written to the government about her situation and demanded justice.
Speaking of the bullying she and other teachers faced, Shirin said, “At first, even they (other teachers) refused. But the students prevented them from entering the classrooms. Eventually, they decided to give in to the union and asked for time to get a burqa, which was granted to them by the student leaders. But I refused to budge and wrote a complaint to Minister of Minority Affairs Abdus Sattar and the Vice Chancellor. I was then transferred to Salt Lake as a library assistant,” she said.
For nearly four months, Shirin continued to fight for her rights and waited for government action, until in August 2010 university authorities asked her to resume her duties without wearing a burqa.
“I struggled hard to get where I am and I haven’t learned anything to take lying down,” she reportedly told TOI after learning that she had been transferred to the main campus at Haji Mohammed Mohsin Square in the West Bengal.