The Supreme Court on Thursday gave a split verdict on the petitions that challenged Karnataka High Court order to uphold Bharatiya Janata Party ruled-state government’s ban on wearing hijab in educational institutions.

Read about the full verdict here.

While Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia quashed the state government’s order, Justice Hemant Gupta dismissed the petitions. Here are the top quotes from the judgements:

Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia

  • Noting that the girls face more difficulties than boys in getting education, Justice Dhulia said that the case needs to be looked from their perspective. “The question this court would therefore put before itself is also whether we are making the life of a girl child any better by denying her education, merely because she wears a hijab,” he said.
  • Dhulia said that neither the Karnataka High Court that upheld the ban on hijab nor the state government that imposed the restrictions could sufficiently answer how the headscarves were against public order. “All the Petitioners want is to wear a hijab,” he said. “Is it too much to ask in a democracy? How is it against public order, morality or health? or even decency or against any other provision of Part III of the Constitution.”
  • The judge said that girl’s right to wear hijab does not stop at school gates. “The child carries her dignity and her privacy even when she is inside the school gates, in her classroom,” he added. “She retains her fundamental rights. To say that these rights become derivative rights inside a classroom, is wholly incorrect.”
  • Dhulia continued that asking girls to remove hijab in schools is first an invasion of their privacy. “Then it is an attack on their dignity, and then ultimately it is a denial to them of secular education,” he added. “These are clearly violative of Article 19(1)(a) [right to freedom of speech and expression], Article 21 [right to life or personal liberty] and Article 25(1) [right to freedom of conscience and to freely profess, practise and propagate religion] of the Constitution of India.”
  • The judge held that wearing hijab should simply be a matter of choice. “It may or may not be a matter of essential religious practice, but it still is, a matter of conscience, belief, and expression,” he said. “If she wants to wear hijab, even inside her class room, she cannot be stopped, if it is worn as a matter of her choice, as it may be the only way her conservative family will permit her to go to school, and in those cases, her hijab is her ticket to education.” 

Justice Hemant Gupta

  • Justice Gupta dismissed the arguments that hijabs provide dignity to the girls, stating that they were attending an all-girls’ school. “The students are at liberty to carry their religious symbols outside the schools but in pre-university college, the students should look alike, feel alike, think alike and study together in a cohesive cordial atmosphere,” he said. “That is the objective behind a uniform, so as to bring about uniformity in appearances.”
  • The judge said that wearing hijab may or may not be an essential religious practice, but personal faith cannot be carried to a secular school that is maintained by the state. “It is open to the students to carry their faith in a school which permits them to wear Hijab or any other mark, may be tilak, which can be identified to a person holding a particular religious belief but the state is within its jurisdiction to direct that the apparent symbols of religious beliefs cannot be carried to school maintained by the state from the state funds,” he added.
  • Gupta said that fundamental rights are not absolute as they can be curtailed following a procedure that can withstand the test of reasonableness. Noting this, the judge held that the government order banning clothes that disturbs “equality, integrity and public law and order” was only to maintain uniformity amongst the students. “It is reasonable as the same has the effect of regulation of the right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a),” he said. “Thus, the right of freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) and of privacy under Article 21 are complementary to each other and not mutually exclusive and does meet the injunction of reasonableness for the purposes of Article 21 and Article 14.”
  • The judge held that the state government order cannot be said to be against the ethics of secularism. “Secularism is applicable to all citizens, therefore, permitting one religious community to wear their religious symbols would be antithesis to secularism,” he said.
  • Gupta also dismissed contentions that the Right to Education was being violated by the government order. “The right to education under Article 21 continues to be available but it is the choice of the student to avail such right or not,” he added. “The student is not expected to put a condition, that unless she is permitted to come to a secular school wearing a headscarf, she would not attend the school. The decision is of the student and not of school when the student opts not to adhere to the uniform rules.”