Karnataka hijab ban: No interim relief for Muslim girl students with exams due in five days

The Supreme Court was requested to urgently list the plea for interim directions as the exams of the students commences in the next five days. The CJI remarked that he could not do anything if the matter was mentioned at the last minute. The plea is likely to be listed after Holi vacations.

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TODAY, the plea on the interim directions to permit Muslim girl students to appear for exams at pre-university colleges in Karnataka was once again mentioned before the Chief Justice’s bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala. The advocate mentioning the plea told the bench that the girls would lose their academic year.

The CJI said he would list the matter and constitute the appropriate bench after the court’s Holi vacations. Although the urgency of the matter was emphasised as the exams of the students are commencing in the next five days, the CJI remarked that he could not do much for the last-minute request. He also did not answer when the matter would be listed.

The advocate had to point out that this is the third time the plea had been mentioned.

Earlier, the plea was mentioned on January 23 by senior advocate Meenakshi Arora before the bench of CJI, then comprising Justices V. Ramasubramian and Pardiwala. Arora had stated that many girl students had been admitted to private institutions as a consequence of the hijab ban.

It was then mentioned again by advocate Shadan Farasath, last month, but the CJI again reiterated that he would take a call without giving any date for listing the matter.

As the CJI continues to prevaricate, it is at the cost of the Muslim girl student’s fundamental right to education. A recent study by the human rights body, People’s Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka, titled ‘Closing the Gates of Education: Violations of the rights of Muslim women students in Karnataka’, found that the hijab ban has resulted in the dropout of more than 800 girl students in Karnataka. Over 400 girl students have been denied entry to or suspended from college and missed classes because of it in the state.

In January, the Hindu College in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh denied entry to Muslim girl students clad in hijab and burqa. The students alleged that the college administration compelled them to remove their headscarves at the entrance of the university.

According to the college administration, they were not allowed to wear headscarves as per the dress code for students prescribed by the college.

The controversy 

In February last year, the Karnataka government had issued an order on dress code for students under the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 that essentially allowed educational institutions in the state to set a dress code for its female students that bars donning the hijab.

The Karnataka government’s order was challenged before the High Court of Karnataka, which upheld it. Subsequently, several petitions were filed at the Supreme Court challenging the ban.

In October last year, a division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia, delivered a split verdict in the matter, leading to an impasse and the need to refer the matter to a larger bench of the court for adjudication.

About the split verdict 

Justice Gupta’s judgment observed that Karnataka’s GO was to ensure parity amongst the students in terms of uniforms. As per his judgment, it promotes uniformity and encourages a secular environment in schools. Thus, it was in accordance with Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.

Further, he wrote that restrictions on freedom of religion and conscience have to be read in conjointly with other provisions of Part III of the Constitution. Thus, the state law has primacy over the proposed right to freedom of religion, if the State wants to regulate secular aspects connected to religion.

Whereas, Justice Dhulia, while rejecting the need to determine whether the practice of wearing hijab constituted an essential religious practice within Islam, emphasised the right to freedom and dignity of the individuals.

According to him, discipline in schools is necessary, but not at the cost of an invasion of privacy and dignity of girl students who were asked to remove their hijab at the school gate. He ultimately concluded that the invasion of their privacy and the attack on their dignity is a denial of secular education, and thus a violation of their rights under Articles 19(1)(a) (right to freedom of speech and expression), 21 (right to life and personal liberty) and 25(1) (freedom of religion) of the Constitution.