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Karnataka Hijab Case: Supreme Court Reserves Verdict On Plea Against HC Judgement Upholding Hijab Ban In Classes

During the hearing of petitions against the Karnataka hijab ban in classes, the state said every religious activity is not essential practice.

Girl students wearing hijab
Girl students wearing hijab PTI photo

The Supreme Court of India on Thursday reserved its verdict on pleas challenging the Karnataka High Court judgement on hijab ban in Karnataka's educational institutes. 

The SC bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia reserved its verdict in petitions challenging the March 15 verdict of the Karnataka HC that upheld the state government's ban on hijab in educational institutes.

A section of Muslim students from the Government Pre-University Girls College in Udupi had approched the HC seeking permission to wear hijab in classrooms. The HC ruled hijab is not a part of the essential religious practice in Islam.

The SC had heard the case for 10 days before reserving its verdict. On Wednesday, it told the petitioners that they would be given one hour on Thursday to complete their arguments.

What's the Karnataka hijab case?

A section of Muslim students in Karnataka had approached the court after holding protests on the ground for the right to wear hijab in their classrooms. Their argument was that wearing of hijab is an essential practice of their religion. 

The Karnataka government had, by its order of February 5, banned wearing clothes that disturb equality, integrity, and public order in schools and colleges. This included hijab, a head-covering worn by some Muslim females.

The Karnataka High Court eventually ruled that hijab is not an essential practice of Islam. Thus the petitions were rejected. 

What did Karnataka High Court hijab verdict say?

The Karnataka High Court based its judgement on the hijab case on four questions. Besides addressing whether hijab is essential to Islam, the High Court also addressed the following three questions:

Is prescription of school uniform not legally permissible as being violative of petitioners’ fundamental rights? 

The Karnataka High Court said the prescription of school uniform is only a reasonable restriction constitutionally permissible which the students cannot object to.

Does the government order banning hijab violate fundamental rights? 

We are of the considered opinion that the government has power to issue the impugned order dated and that no case is made out for its invalidation, said the Karnataka High Court on the hijab case.

The fourth question that the Karnataka High Court addressed concerned disciplinary enquiry against respondents in the Karnataka hijab case, including the concerned school, its principal, and teacher.

The court ruled that no case is made out for issuance of a direction for such an enquiry. 

What was said in the current Supreme Court case?

The Karnataka government told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the state has not touched any "religious aspect" in the hijab case and that the restriction on wearing hijab is limited to the classroom. It added that the ban does not exist outside the classroom, emphasising the state has only said educational institutions can prescribe uniform for students, something which is "religion neutral".

Karnataka's Advocate General Prabhuling K Navadgi told a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia that countries like France have prohibited hijab and the women there have not become any less Islamic. Navadgi said unless it is shown that wearing the hijab is compulsory and an essential religious practice, one cannot get protection under Article 25 of the Constitution, which deals with freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K M Nataraj, who also appeared for the state, said the petitioners' entire case is based on a right, which they claim is an absolute right. 

The advocate general, who referred to a previous verdict delivered by the apex court, argued that every activity related to religion cannot necessarily be called an essential religious practice.

"Today, we have a large number of sisters and mothers belonging to the Islamic faith who do not wear hijab, who as a matter of their choice do not wear hijab. We have countries like France which have prohibited wearing of hijab. But in both these situations, when a woman does not wear hijab, she does not become any less Islamic," Navadgi said, adding that Islam continues to flourish in countries which have banned hijab.

Justice Gupta noted he knows a former judge of the Lahore High Court who used to visit India with his family, including his two daughters, and they did not wear hijab.

"I can share one thing. I know somebody in Pakistan, a former judge of the Lahore High Court, who used to visit India quite often along with his family. He has two daughters and a son and I have never seen these young girls and the mother wearing  hijab, at least in India," Justice Gupta said.

The bench observed that arguments raised on behalf of the petitioners is that whatever is mentioned in the Holy Quran is mandatory and sacrosanct.

"We are not experts in Quran. But this court in at least three instances have said every word in the Quran may be religious but not essentially religious," Navadgi said while referring to some previous verdicts of the apex court. He denied the submissions advanced by the petitioners' counsel that the state has acted against one community.

(With PTI inputs)

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