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Kerala: 7 medical students demand alternative to hijab in operation theatre

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In a bizarre move that has potential to stir up the hijab debate and polarise classrooms, and by that definition the country, further, seven students of a government medical college in Kerala have asked college authorities to provide them clothing in operation theatre that can come handy is an alternative to hijab.

The move has, however, not come from some BJP-ruled state, like the last time around in Karnataka. It has come from Muslim girl students of Kerala, one of the most progressive states in the country in terms of universalisation of education and other Human Development indices.

In a letter addressed to the principal of the Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College, Kerala’s oldest medical college founded in 1951, seven Muslim girl students have asked the college to allow them to wear “Long sleeve scrub jackets and surgical hoods” at the earliest, as it will “allow us to maintain sterile precautions as well as our hijab”.

Also read: Forget UCC for now, amend succession act: Kerala Muslim women’s forum

According to college authorities, the girl students have in their letter maintained that their religious beliefs make wearing hijab “mandatory for Muslim women under all circumstances”. The letter describes the dilemma hijab-wearing students face while pursuing their medical education.

All the seven girls who wrote the letter are pursuing an MMBS degree at the Government Medical College. “Hijab-wearing Muslim have a difficult time, finding a balance between donning compliant religious attire and maintaining modesty, while also complying with hospital and operation room regulations (sic),” the girls said in their letter.

The Government Medical College in Kerala, where seven Muslim students have put up the bizarre demand

The letter draws attention to the uniform health workers across the world wear and suggests alternative clothing for medical procedures that various manufacturing companies offer. The alternative the girls have suggested is “long sleeve scrub jackets and surgical hoods”.

The girls go on to suggest in their representation, “Long sleeve scrub jackets and surgical hoods are available, which allow us to maintain sterile precautions as well as our hijab.” They have asked the college principal to allow them to wear the gear.

However, the college authorities have not given in to their demand and have instead formed a committee to look into it. While speaking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, Principal Dr Lynette Morris said. “The demand of the students cannot be accepted for now. International standards are maintained in operation theatres. The patient’s safety is paramount.”

The committee will suggest a solution to the issue raised by the Muslim students, said Principal Morris.

Also read: Hijab verdict evokes mixed reactions; plea filed in Supreme Court

The BJP-led government in Karnataka had last year banned hijab in schools and educational institutions. The ban snowballed into an ugly controversy with public opinion divided along communal lines, supporting and opposing the right to wear hijab, a typical conundrum of choosing religious beliefs over right to education. Soon Hindu students also demanded to wear saffron scarf and other religious symbols while attending schools. The controversy resulted in communal conflagrations at many places, forcing the government order shutdown of schools and educational institutions for many days.

The controversy reached the Karnataka High Court, which upheld the hijab ban. However, the legal redress is not in sight as a two-member bench of the Supreme Court order gave a split verdict on the issue in October 2022, after which it was referred to a three-judge bench.

The demand of the Muslim girls assumes significance at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government at the Centre have begun a concerted campaign for a Uniform Civil Code in the county.

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