Indian court upholds class hijab ban
An Indian court upholds a ban on wearing the hijab in classes in Karnataka State.
In a ruling that could set a precedent in India, an Indian court upheld today a ban on wearing the hijab in classes in the country's southern state of Karnataka.
Six female Muslim students had launched a weeks-long protest in January after being forced to either remove their headscarves or cease attending classes at a government institution in the Udupi region.
Other universities in the state began enforcing the religious prohibitions last week after some Hindu students, backed by extreme rightwing Hindu organizations, argued that if hijabs were allowed in classrooms, saffron shawls should be allowed as well, a chiefly political symbol of Hindu nationalism.
Muslim students have taken the issue to the state high court, decrying the violation of their right to freedom of religion. The students claim that "religious apartheid" is being implemented in some universities, where women wearing hijabs are allowed to enter but are separated from the rest of the students in separate classrooms.
India has the world's largest Muslim-minority population, with more than 204 million Muslims, and is home to around 11% of the world's Muslim population.
"We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice," Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the High Court of Karnataka said in the judgment, adding that the Indian government had the power to specify uniform guidelines.
Karnataka had closed its schools and colleges ahead of the verdict, and imposed restrictions on public gatherings in some areas to prevent any trouble. The state is the only one ruled by PM Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party.
Some Karnataka ministers said that the Muslim girl students who were protesting the ban by staying away from class should respect the judgment and rejoin school.
On the other hand, the decision was widely protested by the Muslim population and politicians. The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Mehbooba Mufti, described the verdict as "deeply disappointing".
"On one hand we talk about empowering women yet we are denying them the right to a simple choice," she tweeted. "It isn’t just about religion but the freedom to choose."
Karnataka HC’s decision to uphold the Hijab ban is deeply disappointing. On one hand we talk about empowering women yet we are denying them the right to a simple choice. Its isn’t just about religion but the freedom to choose.— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 15, 2022
"The high court order is against individual rights, against fundamental rights and against religious rights," Abdul Majeed, Karnataka chief of the Social Democratic Party of India said. Abdul Majeed stressed he is willing to help the petitioners challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court:
"Muslim women have been wearing the hijab for hundreds of years," he said.