The Supreme Court will on Monday hear the hijab pleas, almost a week after it issued notice to the Karnataka government over a plea challenging the High Court’s order upholding a ban on hijab in educational institutions of the state. A bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia refused the request for adjournment by some appellants, saying it won’t allow “forum shopping”.
Several petitions have been filed in the apex court against the Karnataka High Court verdict holding that wearing of hijab is not a part of the essential religious practice which can be protected under Article 25 of the Constitution.
News18 explains the origins of the controversy and the debate over the issue:
On January 1, six girls said they were barred from entering their classroom wearing the hijab at a Government PU College in Udupi, and sat in protest outside the college over being denied entry. The students held a press conference, where they said that permission was sought but college authorities refused to let them enter the classroom with their faces covered.
They started protest against college authorities, which soon snowballed into a state-wide issue. Reports of similar protests emerged from other towns in Karnataka.
In retaliation, members of right-wing organisations started wearing saffron shawls and protested against Muslim women students. A similar situation was reported at Bhandarkar’s college where girls took out a march wearing saffron shawl during a protest against Hijab.
What does the Constitution say on freedom of religion?
Article 25(1) of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. It is a right that guarantees that the state shall ensure that there is no interference or obstacle to exercise this freedom. However, like all fundamental rights, the state can restrict the right for grounds of public order, decency, morality, health and other state interests.
‘No headscarves in educational institutions
The hijab discussion has been put to courts on several occasions, two set of rulings of the Kerala High Court, particularly on the right of Muslim women to dress according to the tenets of Islam, throw up conflicting answers.
On the issue of a uniform prescribed by a school, another Bench ruled differently in Fathima Tasneem v State of Kerala (2018). A single bench of the Kerala HC held that the collective rights of an institution would be given primacy over the individual rights of the petitioner. The case involved two girls, aged 12 and 8, represented by their father who wanted his daughters to wear the headscarf as well as a full-sleeved shirt. However, the division Bench headed by Justice Vinod Chandran dismissed the appeals as it was “submitted that the appellants-petitioners are not now attending the School and are no more in the rolls of the respondent-School.”
In 2015, another single Judge of Kerala High Court allowed two Muslim girl students to wear Hijab and full sleeve dress while appearing for the CBSE All-India Pre-Medical Entrance Test, Live Law reported.
Karnataka High Court’s interim order
The court heard the case for the first time on February 8 and an interim order was issued, which stated that “pending consideration of all these petitions, we restrain all the students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls (bhagwa), scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like, within the classroom, until further orders”.
Karnataka government’s stand
The Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government justified its stand against hijab in educational institutions by stating that under the Karnataka Education Act of 1983, it was not allowed. The government argued that under Section 133 of the Act, it reserves the right to issue appropriate directions to schools and colleges to ensure the maintenance of public order.
On January 26, the Karnataka education department decided to form a committee to draft guidelines on uniforms at pre-university (PU) colleges across the state. The PU board requested all colleges to maintain the status quo until the new guidelines were brought to force.
Karnataka’s education minister BC Nagesh explained that all colleges that fall under the purview of the Karnataka Board of Pre-University Education will have to follow the dress code prescribed by the College Development Committee.
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