Karnataka hijab row: What Indian courts have said on the headscarf
- Colleges in Karnataka turned a political flashpoint over the hijab
- A government order states the hijab is not an “essential religious practice”
- Karnataka HC said religious garments cannot be worn to school until the court comes out with an order
With Karnataka colleges on the boil over the hijab – a traditional headscarf commonly worn by Muslim women – the high court has stepped in, in a bid to calm tempers. The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday ruled that wearing the hijab is not an essential religious practice. The court also dismissed various petitions challenging a ban on hijab in educational institutions.
At the heart of the hijab row raging in India’s IT capital is a government order passed on February 5. The Karnataka government, using the powers vested in the executive under Section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, stated that the hijab was not going to be part of the uniform.
The government order states the hijab is not an “essential religious practice” of the Muslims guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The order saw things deteriorate very quickly after. Such were the fears of a communal conflagration, some schools and colleges had to stay shut.
There were also reports of a school making hijab-wearing women students sit in a separate classroom without a teacher.
Following the government order, a group of women approached the Karnataka high court. The court is in the process of hearing arguments and might have to come out with a ruling on whether the hijab is an essential religious practice not.
While judicial opinion on this varies, the state government cited the following two rulings to substantiate its February 5 order.
Fatheema Tasneem vs State of Kerala
In 2018, two girls in Kerala aged 12 and 8 were denied entry into their Christian missionary school for wearing the hijab. The girls’ father, Mohammad Sunir, took the matter to court. A single-judge bench of the Kerala high court ruled in favour of the school, citing the school as a minority institution adding that “collective rights” of the school must be given priority over individual rights of students, according to an Indian Express report.
Fathema Hussain Sayed vs Bharat Education Society
In 2003, a minority student called upon her all-girls school to withdraw a ban on the hijab, challenging the school’s dress code. In this case, the Bombay High Court cited various verses of the Holy Quran to say the book does not prescribe wearing a hijab in front of other women.
The petitioners in the Karnataka case argue that a ban on the hijab is a ban on an expression granted as a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. They’ve also claimed that students quietly attending class while wearing a hijab cannot possibly disturb “public order”.