An Indian high court refuses to stop colleges banning the hijab

A court in the southern Indian state of Karnataka has dealt a blow to female Muslim students in the state. The Karnataka high court today (March 15) said students cannot object to a uniform set by their educational institutions.

In effect, this ratifies the decision of several pre-university and college campuses in Karnataka to forbid female Muslim students from wearing any face or head covering, insisting on a “non-religious” dress code. Students can continue wearing the hijab at those institutions that do not have a prescribed dress code.

The high court dismissed the petitions of, among others, students affected by these bans. These girls have been sitting in protest against these regulations since December 2021, when the matter sparked unruly scenes in several campuses across Karnataka.

The court has held that the hijab was not essential to the practice of Islam, and hence not protected by the laws of liberty to practice religion as enshrined in the Indian constitution. The petitioners say they will now move the supreme court.

Several campuses across the state, in cities like Udupi and Mangaluru, have been shut in anticipation of protests and violence. Some students have even decided to boycott examinations to highlight what they perceive as an infringement of their fundamental rights and personal liberty.

What is the hijab row in Karnataka?

The hijab controversy in Karnataka began in December when six female Muslim students were asked to remove their headscarves before attending classes at the Government Pre-University College for Girls in Udupi. While the college maintained that the rule against religious markers in clothing had prevailed for decades, the female students claimed that the rule was implemented suddenly and arbitrarily.

While woman students from the community, along with their supporters, sat in protest outside the Udupi college and other campuses where the ban was implemented, students supporting right-wing, Hindutva organisations staged a counter-protest wearing saffron scarves.

With tensions running high, Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj S Bommai announced on Feb. 9 that schools and colleges be shut for three days, to maintain “peace and harmony.” The campus closure came soon after educational institutions had opened up for offline classes after nearly six months of being shut because of covid-19.

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