Lakshadweep administration introduces school uniform for students, circular mum on hijab

Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal alleged the administration is insensitive to sentiments of the community living in the archipelago.

ByGeorge Michael

Published Aug 11, 2023 | 4:46 PMUpdatedAug 11, 2023 | 4:46 PM

Schoolchildren with hijab Lakshadweep

The Lakshadweep administration has laid down norms for “stitched” uniforms for school students, sparking concerns among the predominantly Muslim population in the archipelago.

The uniforms would be applicable for the current academic year, the Union Territory’s Department of Education said in a circular issued to school principals and headmasters on Thursday, 10 August.

While the circular specified that the new pattern of stitched school uniforms included a belt, tie, socks/stockings, etc, it was mum on hijab or scarves for girls.

Muslims comprise more than 96 percent of Lakshadweep’s estimated population of 69,000.

“Wearing items other than prescribed uniform pattern will affect the concept of uniformity among school children. To maintain discipline and uniform dress code in schools are the responsibility of principals and heads of schools,” the circular said.

“Non-compliance with these instructions will be viewed seriously,” it added.

Related: Discontent brews as Lakshadweep plans to allow sale of alcohol

Autocratic decisions, says MP

Uniform regulations imposed as instructed by education department in the circular.

Uniform regulations are imposed as instructed by the education department in the circular.

The omission of hijabs/headscarves has raised questions about the inclusivity of the uniform policy.

The circular prompted the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Mohammed Faizal, who represents the islands in the Lok Sabha, to allege that the administration was aiming at a complete ban on hijabs or scarves for girl students.

He further stated that the Lakshadweep administration was making autocratic decisions, undermining the interests of the communities living in the archipelago that lies between 200 and 440 km off the Kerala coast.

“The administration will have to take responsibility if school-going girls are not allowed to attend class because of the issue. The people of Lakshadweep are ready to take political and legal action against the director of education if it comes to them missing classes” Faizal told reporters.

“There is no mention of scarf or hijab. This is a violation of a person’s Constitutional right, Today (Friday, 11 August), all students defied the order and attended classes wearing scarves/hijabs,” the lawmaker told South First

The MP noted that the circular came close on the heels of a draft Bill allowing the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in Lakshadweep. The administration is insensitive towards the traditions and customs followed on the island for generations,” he alleged.

The education department and Lakshadweep administration were unavailable for comments.

Related: Travel woes of mostly Muslim Lakshadweep natives in Kerala

Administration at odds with population

The people of the archipelago have been at odds with the Union Territory’s administration ever since the appointment of Praful Khoda Patel as administrator.

A Gujarati said to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Patel was appointed administrator in December 2020, becoming the first politician appointed to a post usually held by IAS officers.

Patel sacked over 500 locals employed with the Union Territory’s government as part of what he called “administrative reforms”.

The locals were also up in arms as the number of ships ferrying people from the islands to mainland Kerala — the main destination for higher education and medical care — came down from seven to two at one point.

This, people on the islands alleged, was because the administration did not take timely steps to repair the ships.

Sources in Lakshadweep had earlier told South First that the administration exacerbated the situation by taking whimsical decisions. At one point it suspended online bookings without giving any guarantee of tickets at the counters, but did a U-turn the next month, though only making 30 percent of the tickets available online.

SM Mysha, vice-president of the Agatti unit of NCP, had then said: “The crisis is the creation of the authorities.”

From the original complement of seven vessels ferrying more than 3,200 passengers between the archipelago and the mainland, the number had dropped to two ships with a carrying capacity of only about 600.