A South African court has ordered a local school which prevented an Indian-origin girl from wearing a nose ring to amend its code of conduct to "reasonably" accommodate different religious and cultural practices.
The constitutional court issued the order on Friday in favour of 19-year-old Sunali Pillay in a case that has highlighted the cultural and traditional rights of ethnic groups in South Africa.
Sunali, who is now attending university, and her mother Navi Pillay approached the court when the Durban High School prevented the young girl from wearing the nose stud during school hours three years ago.
Chief Justice Pius Langa said the school interfered with Sunali's voluntary practice of her Hindu religion when it prohibited her from wearing a stud.
The rule prohibiting wearing of jewellery had the potential for indirect discrimination "because it allowed certain groups of learners to express their religious identity freely, while denying that right to others," Langa observed.
The judge ruled that evidence has shown wearing a nose stud was a voluntary practice and it formed part of Pillay's South Indian Tamil culture.
The court concluded that the school's action against Pillay was unfair, asking it to amend its code of conduct to "reasonably" accommodate different religious and cultural practices.
Reacting to the court decision, an elated Navi told PTI that the judgment clearly showed that her daughter had been discriminated by the school, which had a majority white population.
"As soon as I heard the news, I telephoned Sunali at university and she responded with delight and happiness. We took up the case because we believed that our culture had been trampled upon by the school and education department," Navi said.
The school, in its reply before the court, had contended that it was not part of the school code for girls to wear nose studs. It was supported by the provincial department of education, the school governing body, some newspapers and even some Hindu organisations.
"The constitutional court decision is a clear message that all our customs and traditions must be respected," Navi said.
"The decision is a victory for our multi-cultural society. It's a victory that all of us must celebrate," she said.