Udupi, Karnataka: On Tuesday morning, days after Muslim students began protesting for their rights to wear the Hijab in classrooms, scores of students— donning saffron scarves and turbans— protested against it. The protests that were held outside the MGM college in Udupi in Karnataka witnessed the students shouting slogans of 'Jai Shri Ram' and 'Jai Shivaji'.
On the other end, Muslim girls in hijab demanded 'justice'.
BOOM spoke to several students in Udupi district, recorded videos and found that the Hindu Jagarana Vedike— a right-wing organisation affiliated to the RSS — helped in mobilising the students. The saffron turbans that the protesting students wore were provided by the right-wing outfit.
While initially refusing to leave the college premises, students from both the protesting sides, continued their protest at the gates as the college authorities and principal tried to bring the situation under control.
In the last few days, students have walked inside classrooms wearing saffron scarves to protest against Muslim female students who demanded that they be allowed to wear the hijab in classrooms.
Many of the students in Udupi and Kundapura taluk in Coastal Karnataka, the epicenter of the controversy, who were seen wearing saffron scarves identified themselves as part of Hindu Jagarana Vedike, while some others told BOOM that they were members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (student wing of the BJP) and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).
At the MGM college, a PUC first-year student (standard 11) who did not wish to be named said he was a member of the RSS and a supporter of Hindu culture. He told BOOM that the students had decided on Monday night that they would wear saffron scarves. Several of his friends had co-ordinated over WhatsApp messages that they would carry saffron shawls to the college— and if they saw Muslim students in hijab, they would also wear the scarves.
Varshini, a student, who was present at the protest told BOOM that they were 'inspired' by students from some other college who wore saffron scarves.
"Why should only they (Muslim women) get to wear their religion over their uniform. They want to wear the hijab so they can spread their religion. We will wear saffron to spread Hinduism," she said. When asked where she got the scarf from she said she had it at home but then immediately said, "My father bought it for me when I told him our idea of wearing saffron scarves."
She refused to comment on whether her father had also bought her the saffron turban.
One of the saffron-clad protestors, a Class 11 student and a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) said, "We spoke to the principal yesterday, they said they will announce a decision on the hijab by 10.30 AM today. We told the principal we would wear the shawls but they did not respond to that. The principal told us those wearing the hijab would not be allowed from today so we believed them and attended class. But today we saw that girls were wearing hijab inside the college and classrooms," he said.
He said that the saffron scarf that he was wearing was given to him by the Hindu Jagran Vedike, adding that they were provided to students participating in a local event held in October.
Another student from Bhandarkar college in Kundapura district said he was affiliated with the RSS. Anirudh Poojary said, "We wore saffron shawls after higher-ups directed us to wear them." When asked who these "higher-ups" were, he said, "Same people who are telling us when to protest. I cannot name them"
Students present at the MGM college were wearing three types of similar scarves - those with Jai Shri Ram written on it, those which had a green border worn during religious functions or the plain saffron ones. The turbans, on the other hand, sported by the students were all the same - saffron with a gold leaf motif on it.
Following the sloganeering of 'Jai Shri Ram' as the college declared a holiday bringing an end to the protest, BOOM witnessed students collecting the turbans in a pile. In a video that BOOM recorded - that has now gone viral - the students can be seen returning the saffron turbans by dropping them off in a pile as some youngsters who were not in uniforms collected them.
BOOM also saw the same people who are not in the uniform instructing the students and asking them to drop off the turbans. When asked about what they were doing, they refused to respond and asked BOOM to stop recording.
Watch the video below:
Following this, BOOM witnessed several members of the Hindu Jagrana Vedike including senior leaders like Prakash Kukkehalli, chief secretary, Mangaluru division gathered at the Ajjama cafe opposite the MGM college where the protests took place. The video also shows Kukkehalli waiting as other members bring the turbans from the college and put them in a gunny bag to be taken away.
Watch the video below.
Note: The audio has not been recorded.
As seen in the photo below that BOOM shot, Kukkehalli can be seen standing wearing a pink shirt.
In the video, Umesh Nayak, one of the unit chiefs of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, was heard directing the other members to stop putting the turbans into the gunny bag as journalists were present.
Below is Prakash Kukkehalli, chief secretary, Mangaluru division of the right-wing organisation, who was seen at the Ajjama cafe.
Both are known leading members of the Hindu Jagrana Vedike and have been quoted in several media outlets repeatedly over the issue.
However, when we reached out to Prashant Nayak, district president of the Hindu Jagrana Vedike, and asked him whether the group had supplied students with saffron scarves and turbans, he denied it.
"Till date, everything that has happened has all been done by students and we are not involved in it," Nayak said.
He further added, "As a responsible citizen of the society, we cannot sit with our eyes shut to this issue. Our dharma says what is right and wrong and how one should behave. We do not support cruelty and will never support it. But we can't always sit with our hands tied, it is our job to protect our society."
Despite all the evidence that shows that the Hindu Jagrana Vedike was involved with supplying the saffron scarves and turbans, Nayak said, "We don't come to know what is happening inside the college or what the students are deciding. How will we come to know the ongoings inside... how will we supply? See, there is nobody who doesn't have the money to buy a shawl. The students have themselves arranged the same and this is an example of what students can do."
It is important to note that the Hindu Jagarana Vedike was involved in the 2012 Mangalore homestay attack, where 50 activists of the outfit broke into a house and assaulted them for celebrating a birthday party. The state convener then, Jagdish Karanth, had taken responsibility for the incident, claiming it was to curb "sex tourism". The activists had allegedly assaulted the boys and girls and even blackened some of their faces.
Human rights organisation, People's Union for Civil Liberties, reported Hindu Jagarana Vedike as one of the perpetrators of the 2021 anti-Christian violence in Karnataka.