India: Muslim Students Demand Teachers Wear Burqas

Students at an Islamic university in eastern India have refused to allow a female lecturer to teach unless she wears an all-encompassing Muslim veil, the teacher said Thursday.

The student union has ordered all female students and all eight female lecturers at the small Calcutta campus of Aliah University to wear the veil, called a burqa in South Asia.

Sirin Middya, who described herself as a devout Muslim, said she was appointed in March but has not been allowed to teach her classes since she refused to wear the garment, which covers the entire body and face. A mesh net covers the eyes.

"The students have threatened us and have put up banners saying those who oppose the burqa rule can go back home," Middya said.

Nearly a fourth of the population of West Bengal state, where the university is located, is Muslim, and burqas are a common sight in Islamic neighborhoods.

But the garment is rare in much of India, a predominantly Hindu country, with a large Muslim minority, and it is unusual for it to cause a stir. Unlike in the West, where governments have moved to ban the burqa, Muslim dress is not typically a source of public debate.

Middya said she had been hired to teach Bengali at the city campus but had been helping out as a librarian in a separate suburban campus of the university for the last three months.

"I don't have a problem wearing the burqa, but when I wear it, it will be of my own free will," Middya said.

Middya said she has written to the university authorities and West Bengal education minister to intervene after a new academic year began in July.

University authorities were not immediately available for comment. However, Vice Chancellor Syed Shamshul Alam told the Indian Express newspaper that they have asked the teacher to shift to another campus of the university. "This is a stray incident. ... There is no dress code in our university," Alam said. -AP



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