Students move Supreme Court on hijab; CJI says will consider setting a 3-judge bench
A group of girl students from Karnataka approached the Supreme Court, seeking a directive to government institutions in the state to allow them to appear for examinations wearing the hijab
NEW DELHI A group of girl students from Karnataka approached the Supreme Court on Monday, seeking a directive to government institutions in the state to allow them to appear for examinations wearing the hijab.
After the plea was mentioned, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said he would consider setting up a three-judge bench to take up the matter in view of a split verdict by the two judges of the previous bench in October 2022.
“I will examine the matter and allot a date. This is a three-judge bench matter. You submit a note to the registrar,” the CJI told senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who mentioned the case on behalf of the students.
She pointed out that most of the girl students have migrated to certain private colleges in view of the continuing prohibition by the state government on wearing of the hijab in the educational institutions in Karnataka.
“However, exams can only be conducted in the government colleges...private colleges cannot conduct exams. That’s why we want this matter to be taken up for interim orders,” Arora, assisted by advocate Shadan Farasat, told the CJI. She added that the exams are slated to commence from February 6 and, therefore, the court should list this matter before that.
At this, justice Chandrachud said that a three-judge bench will have to be allotted the matter and that he would consider passing suitable orders on the administrative side for listing of the case.
In October 2022, the top court delivered a split verdict on the ban of wearing of hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka – with one judge affirming that the state government is authorised to enforce a uniform in schools and the other calling the hijab a matter of choice that cannot be stifled by the state.
Justice Hemant Gupta, in his judgment, had dismissed all the appeals filed against the Karnataka high court judgment, which held in March that wearing of the hijab by Muslim women is not mandatory in Islam and that the Karnataka government was empowered to enforce the uniform mandate.
However, justice Sudhanshu Dhulia had at that time differed from the senior judge on the bench and allowed all the appeals. Reading out the operative part of his judgment, justice Dhulia said that wearing of the hijab is a matter of choice for a Muslim girl and there cannot be any restriction against it. Quashing the state government’s prohibitory notification, justice Dhulia added that concerns regarding the education of a girl child weighed the most on his mind and the ban on the hijab would certainly come in the way of making her life better.
In view of the dissenting views, the matter has been referred to the Chief Justice of India for constituting an appropriate bench.
The extensive hearing in the case last year witnessed almost two dozen lawyers arguing over a spectrum of issues on behalf of girl students, Islamic bodies, rights groups, lawyers and activists.
The petitioners, challenging the Karnataka high court order of affirming the ban, covered in their arguments the right to practice religion, freedom to dress as a matter of expression and identity, right to access education and alleged unreasonableness of the state’s mandate. The Karnataka government countered the petitioners, maintaining throughout the proceedings that their circular to enforce the uniform was religion-neutral and aimed only at promoting uniformity and discipline in educational institutions of the state.