The Karnataka government on Tuesday told the state’s High Court that there is no restriction on wearing hijab in campuses of educational institutes in the state, ANI reported. Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi said that the ban on headscarves imposed by the state was applicable only inside classrooms and during class hours.

The Karnataka government’s argument that the hijab ban is not applicable outside classrooms is significant as many educational institutions in Karnataka, over the last couple of weeks, have made students and teachers take off their headscarves and burqas before entering the premises.

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 Tuesday’s hearing, Navadgi had told the court that there was no restriction on wearing hijab in the country, The Indian Express reported.

“The right to wear hijab under Article 19(1)(a) is subject to reasonable restrictions under 19(2),” the advocate general said. “In our case, Rule 11 [of Karnataka Educational Institutions Rules] places reasonable restriction as a matter of institutional discipline. This rule imposes upon them a reasonable restriction of wearing a particular headgear.”

Article 19(1)(A) of the Indian constitution grants freedom of expression to India Citizens. However, Article 19(2) subjects a list of enumerated exceptions provided in Article 19 (2).

During the hearing, Navadgi also denied allegations of religious discrimination against the Karnataka government.

“These are bald-faced allegations,” he said, according to Bar and Bench. “No person from one community has been preferred over another community.”

Navadgi also countered one of the petitioner’s contention that the Quran mandated Muslim women to wear hijab and not expose their body parts. Citing the verse that the petitioner had used to make the argument, the advocate general said that it mentioned wearing a burqa – a gown that covers the body – but not the hijab, which is a headscarf.

Arguing that hijab was not an essential religious practice in Islam, Navdagi asked the court if someone was made to follow a religious practice, would it not violate the dignity of that person.

To this, the court said: “If in Hindu marriage, we hold tying of mangalsutra is essential, it does not mean all Hindus in country should compulsorily wear mangalsutra. We declare legal position and leave it there.”

But, Navdagi argued that in this particular case, if wearing hijab became a religious sanction, women would be obligated to wear them. Their choice to not wear would be taken away, he said.

At Monday’s hearing, the Karnataka government had told the court that any element which introduces religious aspects should not be part of uniform in educational institutions. Navadgi had made the comment after the chief justice had sought to know the government’s stand on whether headscarves of the same colour as the uniform could be allowed by colleges.

Students wearing hijab not allowed to enter campus

While the Karnataka government submitted before the High Court that there is no restriction on wearing hijab in campuses, schools and colleges across the state have barred women from entering the educational institutions with the headscarves.

Colleges in Karnataka reopened on February 16 after they were shut down due to protests regarding the hijab ban. Many students in Vijayapura, Bijapur, Kalaburagi, Shivamogga and Yadgir districts were not allowed to enter the campus as they refused to take off their hijab.

College authorities at the Government Pre-University College in Vijaypura had said that they were following the directives of the Karnataka High Court, which told students not to wear “religious clothes” in educational institutions till further orders.

While some students in different colleges were taken to the principal, others returned home.

Also read:

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  2. Why the right of young Indian Muslims to wear the hijab must be protected