Indian court upholds state hijab ban in schools, colleges

Indian court upholds state hijab ban in schools, colleges By A Robin - March 16, 2022
Students sit and study

Students sit and study in the playground of a college in Bangalore

A high court in India’s southern state of Karnataka upheld on Tuesday a ban on the wearing of hijab in classrooms, ruling that the Muslim head covering is not “essential” to Islam.

The hijab controversy took off in late January after Muslim girls at a government-run secondary school in Karnataka’s Udupi district began protesting a new rule that prevented them from attending classes if they wore the hijab.

After the local administration backed the school and banned the wearing of the hijab and “clothes which disturbed peace” at educational institutions, a small peaceful protest held by the Udupi schoolgirls grew into rallies that spilled into other states.

The Karnataka High Court’s ruling comes after weeks of deliberations following petitions arguing that India’s constitution guarantees Muslim women the right to wear headscarves.

The court dismissed the pleas, saying the state government had the right to prescribe uniforms for students.

“The school regulations prescribing dress code for all the students as one homogeneous class serve constitutional secularism,” Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the Karnataka High Court said in the judgment.

“We are of the considered opinion that the wearing of the hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice.”

The court also said that students cannot object to school uniforms, prescribing it is a “reasonable restriction and constitutionally permissible.”

Activists fear the hijab ban could pave the way for further discriminatory measures targeting the Muslim community, which makes up about 12 percent of the population in Karnataka, a state that is a stronghold of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The verdict is unacceptable, unjust and violates human rights and constitutional rights. It dehumanizes Muslim women and sets a disturbing precedent,” student activist Afreen Fatima said.

“The ruling BJP and the right-wing forces have co-opted Indian institutions and the court is also becoming a tool in the hands of the majoritarian forces to further humiliate Muslims.”

Since coming to power in 2019, the local government has passed a series of rules seen as discriminating against Muslims and other religious minorities, including regulations making it difficult for interfaith couples to marry, and for people to convert to Islam or Christianity.

Poet and teacher Nabiya Khan, who wears the hijab, said the verdict is “emotionally exhausting.”

Shayma S, a Muslim activist and doctoral student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arab News that the ban amounted to “literal denial of education and women’s right to exercise their choice.

“The rights of the minorities are being violated in many ways. This is one more layer to that violation,” she said, expressing hope that the Karnataka ruling would be reversed.

Anas Tanveer, a lawyer representing the petitioners, said the decision is going to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

“The court has gone into essential religious practice when it should not have,” he told Arab News.

“The question essentially is whether the state has power to issue such notifications which are against the law, the statute or the rules.”

By A Robin - March 16, 2022

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