Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has spoken out in support of six Indian students fighting for their right to wear the hijab in class.
The teens have been protesting in Karnataka state for weeks, drawing attention to a college’s ban on hijabs – described by Malala as “horrifying”.
The row has spread and inflamed religious tensions within the state, with clashes reportedly breaking out.
Schools have been closed for three days as a result.
The dispute has also made national headlines in India, and has now reached the state’s high court.
A petition with the court filed by one of the students argues that wearing the hijab was a fundamental right to religion guaranteed by the constitution.
On Tuesday, Malala – who was 15 when she survived an attack by the Taliban in Pakistan for speaking up for the right of girls to be educated – called on India’s leaders to do something to “stop the marginalisation of Muslim women”.
“Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying,” the 24-year-old activist tweeted. “Objectification of women persists – for wearing less or more.”
The teenage girls began their protest after they were banned by management from wearing the hijab in class at their government-run pre-university college, equivalent to a high school.
The issue has since snowballed to other colleges in Karnataka state – last week, a video showing college gates being shut on a group of young hijab-clad women caused outrage.
But it has also seen Hindu hardliners protest in support of the ban.
On Tuesday, clashes between the two sides were believed to have left a number of people injured, according to local media.
The state’s chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai, closed schools for three days, appealing for “all the students, teachers and management of schools and colleges as well as people of Karnataka to maintain peace and harmony”.