Karnataka High Court Verdict: ‘Hijab Not an Essential Religious Practice’ For Muslim Women

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 After weeks of stalling judgement on petitions, the Karnataka High Court said today that hijab is not “an essential religious practice.” The verdict pronounced by High Court backs the ban on hijab in classrooms, which was initially challenged by a group of Muslim students in a hijab ban row that spread to many districts since protests began at a school last year in Karnataka.

The bench of three judges refused to strike down the state government’s ban and has dismissed petitions by Muslim students, concluding that “wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in the Islamic faith.”

In a previous hearing dated February 5, the Karnataka government had observed that educational institutions have a right to ban clothes that appear to “disturb equality, integrity and public order.”

The High Court order stated that the prescription of school uniforms is a “reasonable restriction which students cannot object to.”

Ahead of the High Court order, public gatherings were banned for a week in state capital Bengaluru in order “to maintain public peace and order”. Mangalore also banned gatherings between March 15 and 19. Schools and colleges have remained closed today in Udupi, where the protests had originally begun in December 2021.

The Karnataka High Court, in a previous hearing last month, had temporarily banned religious clothes, including Hijab and saffron scarves, when the controversy had snowballed into protests and face-offs between students of different communities.

The petitioners among Muslim students had told the court that wearing the hijab is a fundamental right guaranteed under India’s constitution and essential practice. The court, however, did not accept that argument.

During the course of the court hearings, students and teachers in hijabs have been barred entry into schools and humiliated to remove their overalls, cloaks, and hijabs before stepping inside the premises. This happened despite the High Court clarifying that the temporary ban applied only to students, not teachers.

The controversy over the hijab had started when a group of Muslim students of a school in Udupi had alleged that for the first time in years, they had been banned from entering class in hijabs. As word spread, similar restrictions were placed inside more campuses, with the eventual escalation over hijab row reaching a point wherein saffron-wearing students launched rival protests.

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