Karnataka Govt Collecting Data on Muslim Students: Report

Primary and Secondary Education Minister of Karnataka B.C. Nagesh told 'Deccan Herald' that the data is being collected to counter daily media reports with correct numbers.

Listen to this article:

New Delhi: The Karnataka government has begun a process of collecting data on Muslim students enrolled in private and government educational institutions, Deccan Herald has reported.

The newspaper has quoted administrative heads of private colleges and government officials in its report on the state government’s effort to gather data on students belonging to the minority community, especially those studying in classes 1 to 10.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister of Karnataka B.C. Nagesh told the paper that the data is being collected to counter daily media reports with correct numbers.

Karnataka is at present at the centre of what has grown to be a countrywide and international discussion on Muslim girls’ freedom to wear the hijab to school and college, after a pre-university college’s decision to bar girl students in hijabs from entering the classroom led to protests and counter-agitations across the state, and later, India.

The Karnataka high court, in its interim order, restrained all students from wearing any religious clothing within the classroom. Schools, pre-university colleges and colleges remained closed for periods.

On Monday, as high schools reopened, videos surfaced, showing students and teachers allegedly being forced to remove their burqas and hijabs outside school gates.

Minister Nagesh ostensibly referred to everyday reports on this in the media when he told DH, “Every day, both the electronic and print media are reporting on the issue with varying figures on the total number of students sent back home for defying the HC’s interim order. Our objective was to see if the students are actually disturbed by the issue or focused on studies. We only wanted to know how many students are actually attending classes unmindful of what is happening around.”

However, an unnamed official from Nagesh’s department gave the paper a different reason behind the collection of students’ data.

“Elected representatives may demand the data on the floor of the House as also the high Court as part of the ongoing hearing,” the official is quoted as having said.

A private college principal in Bengaluru also noted that they were asked to submit data on Muslim students. The principal, who is unnamed in the report as well, observed that he assumed that the data would go into labelling college areas as “sensitive zones,” considering the hijab ban.

While India is yet to bring a data protection legislation, the joint parliamentary committee report on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, late last year has highlighted the importance of privacy and the need to protect all facets of data, including of minors. However, as Pallavi Bedi has highlighted in a piece for The Wire, this is only when it comes to the private sector.

“The expansion of the scope of the encroachment of privacy by government actors continues and the accountability of the state in protecting our privacy continues to elude us,” Bedi noted.

The DH report contains details on the data gathered by the Karnataka government. Among the findings is the fact that on Thursday, February 18, alone, “a total of 162 girl students were sent home for defying the high court’s interim order in the state at 14 schools.”

Social commentators have repeatedly pointed out that while the discussion on the religious role of the hijab can continue endlessly, the fact that Muslim girls were now missing classes over a piece of legislation and a subsequent court order would do significant harm to their education.

On February 16, the Karnataka wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party shared the personal details of the students who filed petitions against the ban on hijab in schools and colleges in the state on Twitter. BJP was ostensibly attempting to highlight that the girls were minors – a fact which in turn brought the party further under fire. At present, in the place of both tweets, is the message: “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules. Learn more.”

Yet earlier, it was reported that the parents of the six Muslim girl student petitioners have lodged a complaint with the police that the personal details of their children are being shared by some people on social media.