A series of religious laws in the southern state of Karnataka is raising concerns that the divisive measures will stoke sectarian tensions in the country’s north.
Promoted by India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the curbs include a ban on the wearing of hijabs.
PM Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) banned wearing hijabs in classrooms in Karnataka.
It is only one of India’s five southern states that BJP rules. According to media reports, a proposal to make religious conversions illegal is also being considered by the local legislature.
The Opposition and many political analysts have accused the BJP of fueling tensions in Karnataka to cement its appeal to the majority of Hindus.
The BJP’s moves have become a cause of major tension to India’s Muslim minority. Modi’s office hasn’t elaborated on the matter so far.
Even though the BJP denies its involvement in Karnataka’s hijab ban, a bill aimed at preventing the conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity and a 2021 law banning the slaughter of cows are made to pander to the majority community.
The hijab controversy began as a localised issue but has spread countrywide.
A petition has been lodged in the high court to overturn the hijab ban.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed at the repercussions of a verdict on the matter,” a political commentator said.
“Is it going to damage the social fabric in the state?”
Karnataka’s capital is Bengaluru – a city of 12 million people and the centre of India’s booming IT industry.
Muslims account for 13% of India’s 1.35 billion people. The country has experienced many deadly Hindu-Muslim riots since 1947, but hardly any of them were reported in the south. In Uttar Pradesh, a long-running dispute between Muslims and Hindus over a religious site has become the core issue in ongoing state elections as Modi’s BJP seeks to retain power.