The Karnataka government on Monday told the High Court that any element which introduces religious aspects should not be part of uniform in educational institutions, Live Law reported.

Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi made the comment after Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi sought to know the government’s stand on whether headscarves of the same colour as the uniform could be allowed by colleges.

“But we do not want to get into what constitutes religious symbols and what does not,” Navadgi said, according to India Today. “That is why we thought it best to leave it up to the institutions.”

The High Court is hearing pleas filed by the students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College seeking permission to wear hijab to educational institutions. They have been protesting since last month after they were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in hijab. Similar protests have also 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.

At Monday’s hearing, Navadgi also said that the court should deal with the question if wearing hijab was an essential religious practice.

In the last hearing on February 18, the Karnataka government had told the court that the hijab was not an essential religious practice of Islam. During the hearing, Navadgi had contended imposing a ban on hijab does not violate the freedom to practice and profess a religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.

On Monday, the advocate general argued that religious books such as Bhagavad Gita, Bible and Quran have “noble thoughts”, but the makers of the Constitution wanted to keep them out of educational institutions, keeping in mind the likelihood of discord or clash.

The advocate general also cited five verdicts related to essential religious practice, including the Sabarimala and the triple talaq cases. He said there are three tests to determine the practices which can be considered essential to a religion.

  • Is it the core belief upon which the religion is founded?  
  • Is the practice fundamental to the religion?  
  • If the practice is not followed, will the religion vanish or will it cease to be religion?    

“In the context of hijab, I wanted to bring to the notice, that Supreme Court has said why food and dress should be considered as essential religious practices,” he said, referring to the Shirur Mutt case.

In the Shirur Mutt case, the Supreme Court had held that the term “religion” covers all rituals and practices “integral” to a religion, reported The Indian Express.

“A religion may not only lay down a code of ethical rules for its followers to accept, it might prescribe rituals and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are regarded as integral parts of religion, and these forms and observances might extend even to matters of food and dress,” he said at Monday’s hearing.

The advocate general said that the burden to prove the claim that practice of hijab is binding in the religion rests upon the petitioners.

He added: “It [hijab being mandatory] gives rise to various sentiments etc. They ought to have shown more circumspection particularly before a Constitutional court.”

The hearing will continue on Tuesday at 2.30 pm.