Plea in SC against hijab ban; petitioners threaten boycott | Bengaluru - Hindustan Times
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Plea in SC against hijab ban; petitioners threaten boycott

BySharan Poovanna,
Mar 16, 2022 10:44 AM IST

The petition argued that the HC erred in creating a “dichotomy of freedom of religion” and “freedom of conscience” by inferring that those who follow a religion cannot have the right to conscience

New Delhi/Udupi: Hours after the Karnataka high court upheld a state government ban on hijab in educational institutions, the petitioners in the case said they would not attend classes without headscarves, while one student challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court.

Students sit and study in the playground of a college in Bangalore on March 15, 2022, after an Indian court upheld a local ban on the hijab in classrooms, weeks after the edict stoked violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country's Muslim minority. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
Students sit and study in the playground of a college in Bangalore on March 15, 2022, after an Indian court upheld a local ban on the hijab in classrooms, weeks after the edict stoked violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country's Muslim minority. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran / AFP)

The appeal was filed by Niba Naaz, a pre-university (classes 11 and 12) student, through advocate Anas Tanwir. Naaz was one of the students who had sought to intervene in the pending petitions before the high court.

The petition filed in the top court argued that the high court erred in creating a “dichotomy of freedom of religion” and “freedom of conscience” by inferring that those who follow a religion cannot have the right to conscience.

“The Hon’ble High Court has failed to note that the right to wear a hijab comes under the ambit of ‘expression’ and is thus, protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is submitted that clothing and appearance fall within the ambit of the right of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the plea said.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution says, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” But this freedom is not absolute and can be subjected to “reasonable restrictions” as mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

The petition further contended that the high court failed to note that the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, does not provide for a mandatory uniform to be worn by students, and the right to wear a hijab falls under the ambit of right to privacy.

Right-wing organisation Hindu Sena also filed a caveat in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, requesting that it be heard before the top court passes an order in the hijab case. The caveat was filed through its vice-president, Surjit Singh Yadav.

Also Read | Karnataka hijab row: 'Disagree with judgement'- Asaduddin Owaisi, others react

Meanwhile, the original petitioners in the case -- five students of the Government Girls Pre-University (PU) College in Udupi -- held a press conference on Tuesday terming the high court judgment a “betrayal”.

“There is total injustice in what we have received today in the verdict. We had so much hope in our judicial system, in our society and our constitutional values, but we feel like we have been betrayed,” said AH Amaas, a second-year student at the PU college.

The comments came hours after a three-judge bench comprising Karnataka high court chief justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and justices Krishna S Dixit and J M Khazi ruled that wearing the hijab was not an essential religious practice in Islam.

The high court had also said the prescription of school uniform is only a “reasonable restriction”, constitutionally permissible which the students cannot object to.

“It is written in the Quran that it is essential and that is why we are sacrificing so much. This has only been a time of struggle,” Aaliya Assadi, one of the students said at the press conference.

Assadi added that the protesting students had resolved to continue preparing for their examinations on their own, as they have been disallowed from entering the institution for three months. “Why we went to the high court is because we wanted to wear the hijab and sit in class. We will not go to class without the hijab,” she said.

The government girls PU college in Udupi was Ground Zero for the controversy surrounding the headscarf. In December 2021, at least eight Muslim students were stopped from entering class wearing the Hijab. On January 1, the college development council (CDC) passed an order banning the hijab inside campuses, leading to students sitting outside the college building (within the campus) in protest.

The college authorities, however, maintained that the hijab was never allowed inside classrooms.

By February, as controversy spread across the state, there were counter protests with some students wearing saffron shawls. On February 3, a video of the government PU college principal shutting the gates on at least 25 hijab-wearing students went viral on social media.

The students also laid blame at the door of the college administration, and said that the controversy could have been resolved within the “college compound” instead of having to spill on to the streets.

“This was created for political mileage and was made communal. All I want to say to my principal and lecturer who stopped me from going into class with the Hijab is that since the day you denied me entry, so many girls all over Karnataka are facing problems and have lost out on their education. If he had just allowed us, none of this would have happened. After this verdict, how many parents will allow them to go back to school and college?” Assadi said.

“When our country has given us the secular right to follow our religion, culture and our education, why is this not being allowed? I don’t know what to say. Right now, we feel a sense of mental collapse. If Dr BR Ambedkar was alive today, he would have been crying at the state of the Constitution,” Almaas said.

Ahead of the order on Tuesday, multiple districts in Karnataka issued prohibitory orders with state capital Bengaluru banning all types of gathering and agitations in the state capital and schools and colleges shut in Udupi and Shivamogga. In Kalaburgi, another centre of conflict, the district administration imposed Section 144 (ban on all congregations and gathering) from 8pm on Monday till 6am on March 19.

On Tuesday, however, there were no reports of protest or unrest from across the state.

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