The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom on Thursday said that the Karnataka High Court’s decision to uphold the ban on wearing hijab in state’s educational institutions was a violation of religious freedom.
“The ruling is a grave injustice and indignity to women and girls seeking an education in accordance with their faith,” said Anurima Bhargava, the panel’s commissioner.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan American government agency that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion and makes policy recommendations.
On March 15, the Karnataka High Court had adjudicated that the hijab is not essential to Islam and had dismissed all petitions filed against the state government’s ban on wearing hijabs in educational institutions.
The ban had been imposed last month after a group of students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Karnataka’s Udupi city protested because they were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in the headscarf.
The decision by the high court was challenged in the Supreme Court, which said it would take up the matter after March 20.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has been critical of the violation of religious freedom in India.
In its annual report for 2021, the commission had recommended that United States President Joe Biden designate India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in and tolerating “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” religious freedom violations.
“In 2020, religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory,” the commission had said. “The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
This is the second such recommendation from the panel. It had noted a “sharp downward turn” in religious freedom in India in 2019 and flagged it as a “country of particular concern” in its 2020 report, for the first time since 2004.