The burqa and hijab have gone from being sartorial choices to political maelstroms. Women in the Arab world defend them. Presidents in Europe denounce them. And now it is India’s turn to take up cudgels for and against the burqa. Recently, colleges in South India – first in Mangalore and then in Hyderabad – banned the burqa. There were huge protests and everyone, it seems, has jumped in the fray.

It all began when a Mangalore college prohibited a 19-year-old commerce student, Aysha Asmin, from wearing a burqa on its campus. College authorities told the press that allowing the burqa meant allowing namaz five times a day, and this, in turn, meant allowing religious freedom for all. Jain students might come to college naked as per their religion, said the principal. He also said that he was under pressure from organisations, whom he would not name, to ban overt religious displays such as the wearing of saffron shawls and burqas by students.

Meanwhile in New Delhi, the renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan stirred the pot further by telling news agencies that the “burqa is not a part of Islam. It is a part of culture, the culture that the people of the subcontinent have been following since ages. Nobody can enforce a dress code in the name of Islam. It is categorically un-Islamic.”