Hijab ban: SC gives split verdict; Justice Dhulia says ‘wearing headscarf a matter of choice’

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Ishfaq-ul-Hassan

New Delhi | Supreme Court on Thursday gave a split judgment in a plea challenging the Karnataka high court order prohibiting the wearing of hijab inside classrooms in pre-university colleges.

The 1:1 judgment was delivered by a bench comprising Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia.

While Justice Gupta upheld the Karnataka government circular and dismissed the appeals, Justice Dhulia allowed all the appeals and set aside the Karnataka High Court judgment.

Justice Dhulia said the main thrust of his judgment was that the entire concept of essential religious practice was not essential to the dispute and the high court took a wrong path. Justice Dhulia said he has a different view and is allowing the appeal against the high court judgment. “It (wearing hijab) is ultimately a matter of choice, nothing more, nothing else,” he said.

Justice Dhulia said venturing into essential religious practice was not needed and the high court took the wrong way. He added that one thing which was topmost for him was the education of girl children. Justice Dhulia said a girl child in areas does household work and chores before going to school and are we making her life any better by imposing an additional restriction on her?

Justice Hemant Gupta said that given divergent opinions, the matter will be placed before the Chief Justice of India for appropriate directions. Detailed judgment on the matter will be uploaded later in the day. “In view of divergent opinions, let the matter be placed before the CJI for appropriate directions,” he said.

The judgment would mean the restrictions on hijab in classrooms as per the state government’s February 5 order would continue for now.

On September 22, the top court reserved the judgment. The bench heard the arguments from the counsels representing the state government, teachers, and the petitioners, who moved the apex court challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict refusing to lift the ban on hijab in educational institutions of the state.

On March 15, Karnataka High Court dismissed petitions filed by students seeking direction for permission to wear hijab in classrooms. The court said, “Wearing of hijab was not an essential part of Islam. The prescription of uniform is constitutional and students can’t object to it.”

The hijab row, which started as a protest by six students of the Udupi Pre-University Girl’s College in January, turned into a big crisis and was also discussed at the international level.

Meanwhile, Karnataka Minister for Power, Kannada, and Culture V. Sunil Kumar said the question of revoking the ban does not arise.

“There is no question of reversing the state government’s order issued on February 5, banning the hijab and other religious symbols in educational institutions of the state. The uniform rule will continue in schools and pre-university colleges,” he said.

“The Supreme Court has given a split verdict on the matter and we will not take back our decision. No student can attend classes wearing a hijab. Congress and the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) must understand that they cannot go against society,” he stated.

When the court directs them not to wear hijab, they approach the Supreme Court. This shows that there are communal forces and conspiracy behind this, the Minister said.

He further stated that in Muslim nations such as Iran and Iraq there is stiff opposition to hijab and they are saying no to it. Here, protests are staged demanding the right to wear hijab in schools and colleges.

The PFI mindset should change at least now. The organization is already banned. Congress also supported it, he stated. The minister further suggested to Congress that they should attach the slogan of ‘hijab chodo’ along with the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

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