- The deciding judgment, in this case, is Reshma & Another vs., State of Karnataka & Others
- The controversy came into light when a group of female students were barred entry for wearing hijab
- The State Government passed an order making uniforms compulsory in educational institutions
- The High Court of Karnataka upheld the State government’s order and banned any form of religious wear.
- The case is pending before the Supreme Court of India.
The recent hijab row controversy has become a topic of national discussion with people divided into two categories: the one who are in favour of the ban and the other one who are of the view that the Hijab ban is a violation of fundamental rights & secularism which is the very base of Indian Constitution. A group of people are of the opinion that the Hijab ban is not only unconstitutional but is also in contravention of International Human Rights Law.
Hijab is an Arabic word which in a literal sense means a barrier or a curtain. Hijab is a headscarf worn by Muslim women that covers them from head to shoulders. Islamic women wear hijab as a part of their dress code. Besides, there are various other reasons why it is required to wear hijab for Islamic women, which are as follows:
- Hijab acts as a protective shield: In Islam, women are asked to wear Hijabs to protect themselves and to conceal their beauty. It protects them from being sexualised and enable them to be treated on the basis of their personality or character
- Hijab is a mark of obedience to God: According to Muslim women, it is a direction of God and by wearing hijab they are fulfilling Allah’s wish.
- Wearing a hijab is an act of modesty: Islamic women wearing a hijab is also linked to modesty. It is a way in which a woman begins her spiritual journey.
It can be said that Hijab is an important part of religious clothing for Islamic women.
Although debates in the name of religion are quite popular & prevalent in India, this particular controversy garnered a lot of attention and became a topic of national discussion. The Hijab row came into the limelight on January 1st at a Government college in Udupi, Karnataka where six female students were not allowed to enter their classroom with their faces covered. The students stated in a press conference that although college authorities have given permission, their entry was still barred. This issue led to protests in college premises between students which soon turned into state-wide protests with news coming in from different parts of Karnataka aboutclashes between the two groups. Within no time, the matter reached court and several petitions were filed under Articles 14, 19 and 25 seeking the right to wear Hijabs in classrooms.
The petition to the High Court of Karnataka was filed under Articles 14, 19, and 25 of the Constitution of India. Here is a brief explaining these articles:
Article 14: Article 14 of the Indian Constitution talks about equality before the law and equal protection of laws. According to this article, everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of law and no discrimination should be done on basis of race, religion, caste, or gender of any person. Further, it also states that the law should equally protect all its citizens. The state is not bound to provide any special privileges to anyone.
Article 19: Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution ensures freedom of speech & expression that means every person who is a citizen of this country has the right to freely express his or her opinion through any form i.e. oral/written/broadcasting/electronic/press. This article also covers the right to propagate their ideas through any means.
Article 25: Article 25 of the Indian Constitution states that every person who is a citizen of India has the freedom of concise, freedom to profess, practise & propagate his religion. However, this article is subjected to certain conditions such as public order, health & morality.
The Karnataka Government passed an order on February 5th making it mandatory for students to wear uniforms in college premises and not allowing any kind of saffron scarves, hijabs, or religious flags inside the classrooms. The government passed the order under Section 133 of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 (1983 Act). According to this section, the Government has the right to issue appropriate directions to schools and colleges to ensure the maintenance of public order.
The advocates appearing on behalf of the petitioner were: Mr. Sanjay Hedge & Mr.Devadatt Kamat. The petitioner contended that the 1983 Act contains no provision that gives the educational institutions the power to prescribe uniforms. They also contended that it is morally wrong to expel students for violating the dress code and the education of students should not be at risk due to their respective religious beliefs. Advocate Devadatt Kamat was of the view that Government has no authority to prescribe uniforms. He also stated that the right to wear Hijab is a part of speech & expression and it should not be violated.
The Advocate General appeared on behalf of the respondent side i.e. State of Karnataka. He was of the view that the ongoing protests in the State should come to an end and educational institutions should be reopened with immediate effect. He contended that any kind of clothes that are symbolic representations of a particular religion should not be permitted inside educational institutions to maintain order.
THE COURT’S STAND
On January 31st, several petitions were filed in the High Court of Karnataka under Articles 14, 19 & 25 of the Indian Constitution and the case was put to trial on the 8th of February. The bench was constituted of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justices Krishna S Dixit and JM Khazi. The court in an interim order restrained students from wearing saffron scarves, hijab, and any kind of religious flags within the college premises. Following which, the Karnataka Government directed public colleges to implement a prescribed dress code for their students. The Karnataka government justified the hijab ban by the court.
On 15th March, the High Court of Karnataka passed a verdict that wearing Hijab is not essential in Islam and upheld the order passed by the State government making it mandatory for students to strictly adhere to uniforms in educational institutions. The High Court has arrived at this decision because the petitioners did not produce sufficient evidence to confirm that hijab is an essential practise in Islam. The Court quoted the holy book of the Quran stating that as written in footnotes by Abdullah Yunus Ali Hijab is an inessential practice.
After hearing the verdict of the Karnataka High Court, the dissatisfied students appealed to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India which is yet to hear the case.
It must be considered that the right to religion is not an absolute right and the ban on Hijab has not violated any constitutional rights of Muslim women as the Court stands right on grounds of unity, equality & public order. The Hijab row has created a disruption in the State of Karnataka leading to the shutting down of educational institutions like schools & colleges which have created an issue in maintaining public order.
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