The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday upheld the state government’s ban on the wearing of hijab in educational institutions, observing that the headscarf is not essential to Islam, Live Law reported.

“Prescription of uniform is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights,” a three-judge bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justices Krishna S Dixit and JM Khazi noted.

A group of Muslim girl students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Udupi city had in their petitions argued before the court that wearing the hijab in educational institutions was their fundamental right to freedom of religion.

In January, they were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in hijab. The students staged a protest and similar demonstrations were held in other parts of the state too. On February 5, the Karnataka government had passed an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”.

After hearing arguments on the petitions for 11 days, the High Court had reserved its verdict on February 25. In an interim order on February 10, the court had barred the students of the state from wearing “religious clothes” in schools and colleges until it decides on the petitions.

On Tuesday, the judges said that in the order they have formulated answers for three questions:

  1. Whether wearing hijab is an essential religious practice protected by Article 25 of the Constitution.
  2. Whether prescribing uniforms in educational institutions violate rights of citizens.
  3. If the Karnataka government’s February 5 order violated equality of law as prescribed under Article 14 of the Constitution.

On all three questions, the judges accepted the submissions made to the court by the Karnataka government.

During the hearings that lasted nearly 23 hours, the Karnataka government told the court that wearing the hijab is not an essential religious practice of Islam and imposing a ban on wearing it does not violate the freedom to practice and profess a religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.

Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi had told the court that there was no restriction on wearing hijab in campuses of educational institutes in the state and that the ban was applicable only inside classrooms and during class hours.

The government had also said that religious aspects should not be part of uniform in educational institutions.

The court’s judgement is in line with the government’s stand on both these matters. As for the government order passed on February 5, the judges said that no case had been made during the arguments to invalidate the directive.

Advocate AM Dhar, who appeared for one of the petitioners said he would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, ANI reported.

Security stepped up in Karnataka

Ahead of the hearing on Tuesday, Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant had issued directions under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Code Procedure that bans assembly of five or more members. Similar restrictions have been imposed in the districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi.

The commissioner said that the order was being issued as protests had broken out at several places due to the the hijab ban and similar agitations can be cannot be ruled out after the Karnataka High Court delivers its verdict.

Besides the ban on large gatherings, protests or victory marches in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, schools will also remain closed in the districts.

Also read:

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  2. With Karnataka’s hijab ban, the US stands at crossroads over its relationship with the Modi regime