As the Supreme Court of India delivered a split verdict on the ban of wearing of hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka; with one judge affirming that the state government is authorised to enforce uniform in schools and the other calling hijab a matter of choice that cannot be stifled by the state, the matter has been referred to the Chief Justice of India for constituting an appropriate bench.
While Justice Hemant Gupta, in his judgment, dismissed all the appeals filed against the Karnataka high court judgment, which held in March that wearing of hijab by Muslim women is not mandatory in Islam and that the Karnataka government was empowered to enforce the uniform mandate; Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia differed from the senior judge on the bench and allowed all the appeals. Justice Dhulia said that wearing of hijab is a matter of choice for a Muslim girl and there cannot be any restriction against it.
The extensive hearing in the case last month witnessed almost two dozen lawyers arguing over a spectrum of issues on behalf of girl students, Islamic bodies, rights groups, lawyers and activists.
Quashing the state government’s prohibitory notification, Justice Dhulia added that concerns regarding the education of a girl child weighed the most on his mind and the ban on hijab would certainly come in the way of making her life better.
While the petitioners challenging the high court order covered in their arguments the right to practice religion, freedom to dress as a matter of expression and identity, right to access education and alleged unreasonableness of the state’s mandate, the Karnataka government maintained throughout the proceedings that their circular to enforce uniform was religion-neutral and aimed only at promoting uniformity and discipline.
But students stressed that hijab (headscarf) was part of the uniform.
The controversy started on January 1 at a college in Udupi, where six female students were not allowed to enter classrooms wearing the headscarf.
Students protested continually against college authorities, stating that it was an assault on religious right- which soon snowballed into a state-wide issue.
Reports of similar protests emerged from other towns in Karnataka. These protests and counter demonstrations involving saffron scarves have since spread to other states. Several videos of the protests emerged, which showed students of the two communities engaging in verbal spats.
One such video from a college in Mandya showed a Muslim girl standing her ground as a large number of saffron scarf wearing boys heckled her and shouted slogans of "Jai Shri Ram". She shouted back at them: "Allah hu Akbar!"
Several petitions were filed in the Karnataka High Court on January 31 in which Muslim students sought the right to wear Hijabs in classrooms under Article 14, 19 and 25 of the Constitution of India. The court heard it for the first time on February 8.
The Karnataka high court verdict came ruling that ‘wearing hijab is not a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith’ under Article 25 of the constitution.
The high court dismissed the petitions filed by a section of Muslim students from the Government Pre-University Girls College in Udupi, seeking permission to wear Hijab inside the classroom.
“The prescription of school uniform is only a reasonable restriction, constitutionally permissible which the students cannot object to,” the high court had said.
As per a report, hundreds of Muslim women students reported absentia in classrooms and refrained from giving exams.
Notably, Islamic scholars argue that Hijab or Headscarf is mandatory in Islam like five time prayers and the religious right is guaranteed by the constitution of India.