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‘What Do Clothes Have To Do With Our Education?’: Mumbai College’s Ban On Hijab, Jeans Sparks Row

Students cry foul as college says dress code is for ‘institutional discipline’

On a rainy Thursday morning, students from Mumbai’s NG Acharya and DK Marathe colleges are waiting at a nearby bus stop.

‘Our lectures got cancelled again,’ mutters a B.Com student sitting alongside his friend. The reason? Several students aren’t there in the classroom. The student says such has been the case for the “last few days”.

The Chembur-based college made headlines earlier this week for banning “hijab, jeans, T-shirts, and revealing dresses” on campus. The noticeā€”laminated and stuck on the entry gateā€”has drawn the ire of several students.

The notice – signed by principal Dr. Vidyagauri Lele – stuck on the main gate (Photo Credits: Shubham Chohan)

Some students HW News English spoke to question the need to equate education with their attire.

A 19-year-old student requesting anonymity, said: “We don’t want to protest. We want to study. We just have one demand – this (wearing a hijab) is our choice and the college should also listen to our views. I don’t think our clothes have anything to do with my education. Instead, because of applying such dress code, we aren’t able to attend our lectures and are missing out on our attendance and practicals”

The student pointed out that many came from lower-middle-class families and didn’t have the money to buy formal clothes.

Another student claimed the principal made an exception to students wearing jeans on campus – contrary to what the notice said. She alleged that the principal refused to listen to make a similar exception for a hijab.

The college had sparked a controversy in 2023 over a similar dress code for the 11th and 12th grade students banning burqas, hijabs, skull caps and headscarves.

Notably, the college has a large number of Muslim students from nearby Govandi and Shivaji Nagar area.

NG Acharya and DK Marathe College in Mumbai’s Chembur (Photo Credits: Shubham Chohan)

‘Issued a notice to show neutrality’

In May 2024, students of the degree college got a directive on their official group. It banned students from wearing hijabs, burka, naqab and “any religious identifiers such as badges, caps, or stoles” on campus.

Instead, a dress code allowing half and full shirts with trousers for boys, and ā€œany Indian/ western non-revealing dressā€ for girls was put in place.

On June 14, nine students approached the Bombay High Court in June. In their plea, the students called the ban ā€œarbitrary, unreasonable, bad-in-law and perverseā€. The college, meanwhile, said the notice was applicable to all students and not a particular religion or caste.

A two-judge bench dismissed the students’ writ petition on June 26, observing that the college was well within their right to have a dress code in place.

The High Court was in “full agreement” with the Karnataka High Court’s order in 2022 that upheld a ban on hijabs in educational institutions in the state.

Soon after this judgement, another notice dated June 27 was issued for degree students. It made some additions compared to the earlier notice – prohibiting jeans, t-shirt and revealing dresses.

A third-year student claimed this was the college’s way of “showing neutrality and that they don’t want to come across as trying single-out a particular community”

‘Preparing students for corporate world’

Upon being contacted, Dr. Vidyagauri Lele, principal of the college, refused to HW News English citing lack of permission from the management.

Subodh Acharya, general secretary of the Chembur Trombay Education Society, which runs the Acharya Marathe college said the dress code was a move to instil “institutional discipline”

Acharya said: “This (dress code) is to instil institutional discipline. The college is not a place to make a fashion statement. I (college) has a total of 8000 students. Are you telling me I should make an exception for 20-25 students who have a problem? We are preparing the students for the corporate world..we haven’t done anything in violation of the High Court order”

Subodh Sharad Acharya (@subodh_acharya) / X
Subodh Acharya, general secretary of the Chembur Trombay Education Society (Photo Credits: Subodh Sharad Acharya (@subodh_acharya) / X)

Acharya Marathe college isn’t the only to have issued such notices. In 2014, Borivali’s Nalanda College of Law issued a notice prohibiting female students from wearing skirts, shorts and sleeveless tops.

In 2010, Bhandup’s VK Krishna Menon college banned “figure-hugging jeans”.

Back at the bus stop opposite the Chembur college, some students laughed off how “trivial” it is for the college to a dress code.

A student lamented: “Everything else is happening here except for studies”

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