BENGALURU: Hijab is not an essential religious practice in Islam, the Karnataka High Court ruled on Tuesday, in a setback to Muslim girl students who had challenged a ban on wearing the headscarf in classrooms.
The high court had temporarily banned religious clothes, including hijab and saffron headscarves, in colleges classrooms in the state last month following protests and face-offs between different groups of students.
In its judgment, the full bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S Dixit, and Justice JM Khazi said, “Wearing hijab or headscarf is not a part of ‘essential religious practice’ of the Islamic faith; the Holy Quran does not contain any such injunctions.”
“Wearing hijab is not an essential religious practice and school uniform to its exclusion can be prescribed. It hardly needs to be stated that the uniform can exclude any other apparel like bhagwa (saffron) or blue shawl that may have the visible religious overtones,” the court observed.
The high court also ruled that the prescription of uniform is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights prescribed under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. “Such a ban cannot be said to be in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 21,” the court said.
The court noted that the petitioner students did not wear hijab in classes before the controversy erupted in Udupi’s Pre University College.
“At no point of time these students did wear any head scarf — not only in the classroom but also in the institution. Even otherwise, whatever rights petitioners claim under Article 25 of the Constitution, are not absolute. They are susceptible to reasonable restriction and regulation by 31 law,” the judgement reads.
It further said, “The educational institutions of the kind being ‘qualified public places’, the students have to adhere to the campus discipline and dress code as lawfully prescribed since years i.e., as early as 2004. The parents have in the admission forms of their wards (minor students) have signified their consent to such adherence.”
The court observed that “some fundamentalist Muslim organizations” like Popular Front of India (PFI) incited Muslim girl students to hold protests and insist on wearing hijab in colleges and classrooms.
“Quite a few students have raked up this issue after being brainwashed by some fundamentalist Muslim organizations like Popular Front of India, Campus Front of India, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Students Islamic Organization of India. An FIR is also registered. Police papers are furnished to the court in a sealed cover since investigation is half way through,” the court stated in the judgment.
Noting that the power of educational institutions to prescribe uniform is “inherent in the concept of school education itself”, the high court said, “There is sufficient indication of the same in the 1983 Act and the 1995 Curricula Rules. It is wrong to argue that the prescription of uniform is a ‘police power’ and that unless the Statute gives the same; there cannot be any prescription of dress code for the students.”
Prabhuling Navadgi, Advocate General (AG) of Karnataka, said the court ruling marked a “paradigm shift” in the interpretation of Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of practice and propagation of religion. “Institutional discipline prevails over individual choice,” he said.
Welcoming the court order, Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, who represents Karnataka’s Dharwad constituency in Lok Sabha, called for peace in the state. “The basic work of students is to study. So leaving all this aside, they should study and remain united,” he said.