Hijab not essential religious practice – Indian court

The Karnataka High Court said Tuesday that the hijab is not an essential religious practice, as it backed government’s ban on hijab in classrooms, challenged by a group of Muslim students in a row that spread to many districts since protests began at a school last year.

“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,” three judges said, refusing to strike down the state government’s ban and dismissing petitions by students.

According to the New Delhi Television, the Karnataka government had banned clothes “which disturb equality, integrity and public order” in schools and colleges in a February 5 order.

“The prescription of school uniform is a reasonable restriction which students cannot object to. The government has the power to issue an order,” said the High Court order.

The Karnataka High Court had temporarily banned religious clothes, including Hijab and saffron scarves, last month as the controversy snowballed into protests and a face-off between different sections of students, the NDTV reports.

The petitioners, which included a dozen Muslim students, had told the court that wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under India’s constitution and an essential practice. But the court struck out their argument.

The NDTV reports that students and teachers in hijabs have been stopped from entering schools and colleges in many parts of the state over the past few weeks.

The court had earlier clarified, however, that the temporary ban applied only to students and not teachers.

The controversy over the hijab erupted when students at a school in Udupi alleged that for the first time in years, they had been banned from entering class in headscarves. As the restrictions spread to more campuses, an escalation saw saffron-wearing students launching rival protests, according to NDTV.

The state ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said no religious symbols should be allowed in places of study as party leaders denied accusations of targeting Muslim students in government colleges.

“I welcome the court’s decision. I appeal to everyone that the state and country has to go forward, everyone has to maintain peace by accepting the High Court order. The basic work of students is to study. So leaving all this aside they should study and be united,” the Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines, Pralhad Joshi, said in Delhi.

The Minister of Primary & Secondary Education and Sakala of Karnataka, B.C. Nagesh, wrote in his official Koo App handle, “I welcome landmark judgement of Hon’ble Karnataka High Court on school/colleges uniform rules. It reiterated that the law of the land is above everything.”