Karnataka HC Upholds Scarf Ban: Petitioners Move SC

Illustration Credit: News Minute

Bengaluru- The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday said Hijab was not part of the essential religious practice in Islamic faith and effectively upheld the ban against the headscarf in educational institutions in the state by dismissing pleas from Muslim girls seeking nod to wear it in classrooms.

Meanwhile a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme court by a student against the Karnataka High Court order.

The plea states that the high court has failed to note that the right to wear a Hijab comes under the ambit of ‘expression’ and is thus protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

"... High Court has failed to note that the right to wear a Hijab is protected as a part of the right to conscience under Article 25 of the Constitution. It is submitted that since the right to conscience is essentially an individual right, the ‘Essential Religious Practices Test’ ought not to have been applied by the Hon’ble High Court in this instant case,” the plea reads.

It has been said in the plea that the high court has failed to note that the Indian legal system explicitly recognizes the wearing/carrying of religious symbols.

Earlier a three-judge full bench of the High Court said the prescription of school uniform is only a reasonable restriction, constitutionally permissible which the students cannot object to.

While the Karnataka government urged everyone to abide by the order, saying education was primary, Muslim students' body Campus Front of India (CFI) protested against the "anti-constitutional order" and vowed to take all efforts to protect constitutional and individual rights.

The government also said it will make attempts to "win the hearts" of the "misguided" Muslim girls.

Six girl students of a college in Udupi had attended a press conference held by the CFI in the coastal town in January this year, protesting against the college authorities denying them entry into the classroom wearing Hijab.

On Tuesday, the Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi-led bench said, "we are of the considered opinion that wearing of Hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith." The CJ read out portions from the order.

The other two judges in the panel were Justice Krishna S Dixit and Justice J M Khazi.

The bench also maintained that the government has power to issue the impugned order dated February 5, 2022 and no case is made out for its invalidation.

By the said order, the Karnataka government had banned wearing clothes which disturb equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges, which the Muslim girls had challenged in the High Court.

The bench also rejected the plea to initiate a disciplinary inquiry against the college, its principal and a teacher.

"In the above circumstances, all these writ petitions being devoid of merits are liable to be and accordingly are dismissed.

In view of the dismissal of the writ petition, all the pending applications pale into insignificance and are accordingly disposed off," the bench said in its order.

State Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said everyone should abide by the verdict of the High Court on the Hijab row, and cooperate with the state government in implementing it.

Speaking to reporters here, he said it was a matter concerning the future and the education of students, and nothing was more important than education.

"Every one should abide by the verdict of the three-judge bench of the High Court. While we (govt) implement it (the order) everyone should cooperate and maintain peace. Maintaining peace and order in the society is of utmost importance. I appeal to the people, leaders of all communities, parents, teachers and students to accept the order and cooperate in imparting education to students, in accordance with the court order," he added.

He also asked students not to boycott classes and exams as some of them did during the preparatory exams keeping their future in mind.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister B C Nagesh said efforts will be made to bring the 'misguided' Muslim girls to mainstream, even as he described the verdict as "landmark".

"We will try to win the hearts of those girls who were misguided. We will try to bring them into the mainstream of education," Nagesh told reporters.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan welcomed the court ruling. At the start of the Hijab controversy, Khan had said wearing of the headscarf was not an essential religious practice in Islamic faith.

"I sincerely pray and hope that these continuous attempts to push back the young women, especially young Muslim women, into the four walls of the house, fall down," Khan said.

The Campus Front of India, responding to the HC order, said the "court verdict on Hijab ban destructs the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution."

 "The BJP regime is trying to implement their agenda and dehumanise a community and the High Court verdict can now be a catalyst for their polarising agenda," CFI said in a statement uploaded on Twitter.

"It is an alarming sign that the judiciary interprets religious texts...we will never accept this anti-constitutional verdict and will continue all efforts to protect the constitution and individual rights," it added.

AIMIM leader and Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi sought to "disagree" with the HC judgement and wanted the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and organisations of other religious groups to appeal against the order.

"...If it is MY belief & faith that covering my head is essential then I have a right to EXPRESS it as I deem fit. For a devout Muslim, Hijab is also an act of worship."

"It's time to review the essential religious practice test. For a devout person, everything is essential & for an atheist nothing is essential..." he said in a series of tweets.

Banning headscarf definitely harms devout Muslim women and their families as it prevents them from accessing education, he added.

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