The lawyer for one of the petitioners seeking permission to wear hijab in educational institutions on Wednesday asked the Karnataka High Court why the headscarf is being targeted when all religions have symbols, reported Bar and Bench.

“Hijab is worn only by Muslims,” said Senior Advocate Ravivarma Kumar. “Goonghat [veil] is permitted, bangles are permitted. Why not ban on crucifix of Christians. Why not turban of Sikhs?”

The High Court is hearing pleas filed by students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Kundapur town of Udupi district. The students have been protesting since last month after they were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in hijab.

Similar protests have taken place across the state. On February 5, the Karnataka government had passed an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. On February 10, a three-judge bench had barred the students in Karnataka from wearing “religious clothes” in schools and colleges until further orders. Following the ban, several schools in Karnataka have stopped students from attending classes wearing hijab.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Kumar cited a research paper which showed that many Indians display their religious beliefs by their attire and clothing.

“Vast majority of Muslim men wear skull cap,” he said. “Among women, wearing headcover is common among Muslims [89%], Sikhs [86%] and Hindus [59%].”

The court asked about the authenticity of the paper, citing a Supreme Court’s directive. To this, Kumar submitted that he was not asking the High Court to accept the data cited in the research, but was only pointing out to the judges the diversity of religious symbols in India.

“If there are 100 symbols, why is the government picking on only hijab?” the advocate said.

Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi said that the court will consider Kumar’s contention but will not accept the research paper till its authenticity is proven.

Kumar also contended that the government had not considered imposing bans on other religious symbols, and was discriminating against Muslim girls on the basis of their religion.

“The goal of education is to promote plurality, not homogeneity,” he said. “The classroom should be a reflection of diversity in the society.”

The court asked Kumar if his argument meant that there should be no uniform in school. The advocate clarified that he was proposing that “heterogeneity” should be maintained.

“Unity in diversity should be the motto,” he said. “Plurality should be preserved.”

He added: “If people wearing a turban can be in the Army, why can’t a person wearing her religious symbol be allowed to attend classes? This is a draconian measure.”

Reiterating his Tuesday’s arguments, the advocate also said that college development committees were not statutory authorities under the Karnataka Education Act. Kumar noted that the state government has given the college development committees the power to prescribe uniform. He then pointed out that under the Karnataka Education Act, only “officer or authority subordinate to the state government” have such powers.

“This is a Committee to which no power can be delegated under Section 143 [of the Karnataka Education Act],” he said. “It is not an authority under the Act. Can an MLA be considered as ‘subordinate’ to the government?”

BJP MLA Yashpal Suvarna is the vice president of the college development committee of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Udupi.

Kumar said it was wrong to give MLAs administrative powers and that doing so would sound the “death knell to Indian democracy”.

The advocate also sought clarification from the High Court on an application he had filed on Tuesday against its interim order to put a ban on students wearing “religious clothes”. In his application, Kumar had asked if students could use a dupatta to cover their heads instead of headscarves.

Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi sought two days’ time to file objection against this application. The court granted the request.

Meanwhile, Senior Advocate Yusuf Muchhala, appearing for one of the petitioners noted that the educational institutions have parents-teachers’ association that are meant to “avoid any trouble in school”. He argued that the associations were not consulted when the order was passed.

“Why the PTA committee was not consulted?” Mucchala asked. “What was the tearing hurry? The practice of wearing was there since the time they took admission in schools. What was the hurry in changing?”

The hearing will continue at 2.30 pm on Thursday.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Devdatt Kamat, appearing for a group of petitioners, had urged the High Court to revoke its interim order on ban on hijab, saying that it “suspends fundamental rights”.

Earlier this month, Hindu students and mobs of men have also protested against Muslim women wearing hijabs to educational institutes at several places in Karnataka. At some colleges, Muslim students have been heckled, while in another case some men climbed up a flagpole to plant a saffron flag and broke into classrooms.

As tensions escalated, the Karnataka government shut all schools and colleges between February 9 and February 12. The schools till Class 10 were reopened on Monday, while colleges reopened earlier on Wednesday.