Muslim petitioners on Thursday told the Supreme Court that social reformer BR Ambedkar’s statements mentioned in the Karnataka High Court hijab ban order are “deeply offensive” and “totally biased”, The Indian Express reported.

In its March 15 judgement, the High Court, while upholding the state government’s prohibition imposed on Muslim students from wearing hijab in educational institutions, had said that Ambedkar’s statements denouncing the purdah system in his book Pakistan or Partition of India applied to the headscarf as well, The Indian Express reported.

“These burka-clad women walking in the streets is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India…,” the High Court said, citing Ambedkar. “The Muslims have all the social evils of the Hindus and something more. That something more is the compulsory system of purdah for Muslim women….”

The High Court quoted another passage in which Ambedkar had denounced the way Muslim women are secluded from the world, which he added, could restrict their outlook. They are weighed down by a “slavish mentality” and an “inferiority complex”, the High Court quoted from his book.

On Thursday, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves told a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia that Ambedkar’s statements about the purdah system should not be repeated in India, The Indian Express reported. The High Court judgement, upholding the state government’s ban, cannot be relied on, he added.

He said that the High Court order links the wearing of the hijab with indiscipline, chaos, social separateness and sectarianism of every kind.

Justice Dhulia said that the High Court had merely quoted Ambedkar in its order. He also said that the verdict “cannot be read like a statute, cherry-picking…this was said in some different context altogether”.

Gonsalves said the judgement did not adhere to constitutional values and did not respect the rights of minorities, Bar and Bench reported. He asked why the hijab cannot be allowed if Sikhs are permitted to wear a turban.

The case could be heard by a different High Court bench as the previous one did not conform to the kind of constitutional independence that it ought to have, the advocate suggested.

“I will show ten short points on how the judgement is on the perception of the majority,” he said. “Where the minority point of view has been seen wrongly. It’s basically a majoritarian judgement.”

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, said that the matter should be referred to a Constitution bench, The Indian Express reported. Contending that “what you wear is an expression of the self”, Sibal said the question is, “if the right [to wear hijab] is available to me in a public place, is my fundamental right extinguished when I enter a school?”

Hijab controversy

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, former Chief Justice NV Ramana refused an urgent hearing in March, saying that the hijab ban had nothing to do with exams.