The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its judgement on a batch of petitions challenging a Karnataka High Court order that upheld the state government’s ban on wearing hijab in educational institutions, Bar and Bench reported.

A bench of Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and Hemant Gupta heard the pleas for 10 days in a row.

On Wednesday, Justice Dhulia had said that allowing students to wear religious symbols in educational institutions might help them get acquainted with the country’s diversity.

Dhulia made the remarks after Senior Advocate R Venkataramani, appearing for a Udupi college teacher, told the court that schools must be free from all religious elements to ensure that transmission of knowledge takes place “without any separation or walls”.

“How will you prepare the students when they go out of the schools?” the court had asked. “When they face the world, they will face the great diversity of the country, in culture, in dress, cuisine...So this can be an opportunity to prepare them.”

On Tuesday, Justice Dhulia had observed that the High Court should not have gone into the question of essential religious practice while deciding on the case.

“They [the High Court] have relied on a term paper of a student, and they have not gone to the original text [of the Quran],” Dhulia added. “Other side [the petitioners] is giving another commentary. Who will decide which commentary is right?”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Karnataka government, had agreed that the High Court could have avoided looking into whether wearing hijab was an essential religious practice in Islam. He, however, had pointed out that it was the petitioners who had argued that hijab was an essential practice.

The hijab ban case

The Karnataka government imposed the ban 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 had 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 the order to ban clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. The students then moved the High Court against the ban.

On March 15, the Karnataka High Court upheld the state government’s ban on wearing hijabs in schools and colleges and held that headscarves were not essential to Islam.

Days after the High Court upheld the ban, a group of students moved the Supreme Court contending that they would miss their examinations due to the ban. However, NV Ramana, who was the chief justice at the time, refused an urgent hearing in March, saying that the hijab ban had nothing to do with examinations.