At the hearing of a pleas challenging the ban on wearing hijab in government schools and colleges in Karnataka, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the petitioners whether students could wear whatever they want in institutions having prescribed uniform, reported Bar and Bench.

“You say educational institution cannot issue a rule but what about the state unless there is a statute which prohibits dress code,” Justice Hemant Gupta said. “So tell me can a student come in minis, midis, whatever they want?”

Justices Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia are hearing a batch of petitions challenging a Karnataka High Court order that had, in March, upheld the state government’s ban on wearing hijab in educational institutions.

On July 13, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, had sought an urgent hearing on the matter contending that girl students willing to wear hijab were losing out on their studies due to the ban. The case was taken up for hearing on August 29.

At Monday’s hearing, Advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, questioned whether women could be denied education on the basis of the clothes they wear. He told the court that the girls who wore hijab to school faced discrimination and were asked to stand outside the classroom.

“When petitioner parents came to meet, they were made to wait all day and the strategy was to frustrate them and concede,” Hegde said, according to Bar and Bench. “Then district education officers were approached. The officers reprimanded the school principal for not allowing students wearing Hijab to attend class.”

Citing the Karnataka Education Act, Hegde told the court that Section 39 of the law prohibits denial of admission on grounds of religion/caste etc.He placed on record a rule which says that information about any changes in the uniform of students must be informed to their parents at least one year in advance, according to Live Law.

The court said that while individuals have the right to practice a religion of their choice, the matter was whether it would be applicable in an educational institution which has a dress code.

“You may be entitled to wear the hijab or scarf, [but] can you carry the right within an educational institution which prescribes uniform?” the court asked. “They [government] are not denying the right to education what they are saying as the state is you come in the uniform.”

Meanwhile, Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi told the court that the government order does not violate the rights of the student.

“We are not saying [that] don’t wear hijab or wear hijab,” Navadgi told the bench, according to Live Law. “We only say follow the uniform prescribed.”

He further added: “After some students started protesting for hijab, another set of students wanted to wear bhagwa [saffron] shawls. This led to a situation of unrest and in this backdrop, the government order was issued on February 5.”

Hijab ban case

A controversy had erupted after, in December and January, a group of Muslim students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Udupi city 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 Karnataka.

Hindu students and mobs of men protested against Muslim women wearing hijabs to educational institutes. At some colleges, Muslim students were heckled, while in another case, some men climbed up a flagpole to plant a saffron flag and broke into classrooms.

On February 5, the Karnataka government passed an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. The students then moved the High Court against the ban.

Days after the High Court upheld the ban, a group of students had moved the Supreme Court contending that they would miss their exams due to the ban. However, then Chief Justice NV Ramana had refused an urgent hearing in March, saying that the hijab ban had nothing to do with exams.