A devout Indian Muslim who considers wearing a hijab an expression of devotion to the Prophet Mohammad says a move by her college to expel hijab-wearing girls is an insult that will force her to choose between religion and education.

Student Ayesha Imthiaz, from southern Karnataka's Udupi district, where protests over the head covering ban began, said: "The humiliation of being asked to leave my classroom for wearing a head scarf by college officials has shaken my core belief.


"My religion has been questioned and insulted by a place which I had considered as a temple of education.” Having been studying for five years at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial college in Udupi, she went on to say: “It is more like telling us you choose between your religion or education, that's a wrong thing."

“Several Muslim girls who protested the ban had received threatening calls and were forced to stay indoors, she added.

Udupi is one of three districts in Karnataka's religiously sensitive coastal region, which is a stronghold of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). College officials say students are allowed to wear the hijab on campus and only asked them to take it off inside the classroom.

The stand-off has increased fear and anger among minority Muslims, who say the country's constitution grants them the freedom to wear what they want. Protests over the ban have escalated, with hundreds demonstrating this month in Kolkata and Chennai.

A judge at the state's high court referred petitions challenging the ban to a larger panel. The issue is being closely watched internationally as a test of religious freedom guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Imthiaz and six other Muslim girls protesting the ban say they are determined to fight for their religious freedom in the face of some hardline Hindu students and even some of their friends.

She said: "It is really hurtful to see our own friends going against us and telling me 'I have a problem with you wearing the hijab'. It’s affected our bonds and mental health."