Since the last week of December, six female students belonging to the Government PU College for Girls in Udupi were not allowed to attend classes wearing hijab with uniforms. On January 7, after days of protests, the young women were allowed to enter the college but made to sit in a separate classroom and disallowed from taking the lessons. The discrimination and the protests that followed soon spilled to other districts in the state.

Violence broke out in the Shivamogga district on Tuesday as the row over hijab spread to the district. A group of saffron-clad students hoisted a saffron flag on a flagpost at Government First Grade College (GFGC). There were reports of stone-pelting and the subsequent imposition of Section 144.

Karnataka Congress President DK Shivakumar claimed that the Indian national flag was replaced with a saffron flag by “anti-national elements allied with BJP”.

India Today published a report that similarly claimed, “Karnataka hijab row: Student ‘replaces’ tricolour with saffron flag in Shimoga” but later published a follow-up that said the flagpost was empty.

Several Twitter and Facebook accounts have made similar claims. Using the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, we found that this claim has been made on multiple high network FB pages such as Mahua Moitra Fans [over 4 lakh followers], The Logical Indian Citizen [over 1 lakh followers] and Beef Janata Party [over 3 lakh followers]. This PDF documents more such pages.

Video verification

It must be noted that in the viral videos of the incident, the student cannot be seen removing the national flag. (1, 2) The videos were shot after he had climbed the flagpost and was in the middle of hoisting the saffron flag. This itself raises doubts about the claim that the national flag was replaced since video evidence of the same is lacking.

ANI’s correspondent Uday Kumar who was reporting the violence from Shivamogga told Alt News that the saffron flag was hoisted on an empty flagpost.

Alt News spoke with another reporter from Shivamogga who was present at the GFGC campus when the incident took place. The reporter did not wish to be named but informed that the saffron flag was installed at around 10.15 am and subsequently removed. He also stated that the flagpost was empty prior to the hoisting of a saffron flag.

We then spoke with Dhananjay BR, principal of the GFGC, who said, “The national flag was removed from the flagpost on January 26 itself and kept in a box as per protocol. Since then, the national flag has not been hoisted.”

Times Now principal correspondent Deepak Bopanna also tweeted that Dhananjay said that the Indian flag was removed from the flagpost on Republic Day.

In a statement to ANI, Shivamogga SP BM Laxmi Prasad refuted social media claims and stated that a saffron flag was installed on an empty flagpost.

Alt News also found other videos from the college. Below is one which was shot minutes before the saffron flag was installed. The flagpost is clearly empty in this video. A person behind the camera can be heard saying that the police isn’t preventing the mob from bringing the saffron flag.

There have been several reports of discrimination against female Muslim students wearing hijab in colleges across Karnataka. The students were also met with unprovoked aggression from Hindu students aligned with right-wing groups. There are reports and videos of female Muslim students being heckled amid chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. But the claim that a mob of saffron-clad students removed the national flag at a college in Shivamogga and installed a saffron flag is untrue. The flagpost was empty.

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About the Author

Archit is a senior fact-checking journalist at Alt News. Previously, he has worked as a producer at WION and as a reporter at The Hindu. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at S3IDF.