The hijab is not an essential religious practice, the Karnataka High Court said as it backed a ban on hijabs in classrooms, weeks after violent protests in many parts of the state against the restriction. The order has been challenged in the Supreme Court by Niba Naaz, a student who was not among the five who had originally petitioned against the hijab ban.
"We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith," said the Karnataka High Court, refusing to strike down the state government's ban and dismissing the students' petitions.
In an order on February 5, the Karnataka government had banned clothes "which disturb equality, integrity and public order" in schools and colleges. Upholding that order, the High Court said a school uniform is a reasonable restriction that students cannot object to.
Schools had reasonable grounds to impose dress codes that forbade the hijab in the interests of preventing divisions on religion and other grounds, the judgment said. "The aim of the regulation is to create a 'safe space'... and the ideals of egalitarianism should be readily apparent to all students," it said.
"The constitution allows us the right to profess our religion. We are shaken, we expected so much. We will not go to college without the hijab," the girls told reporters, vowing to fight the verdict. The students had told the court that wearing the hijab is a fundamental right guaranteed under India's constitution and an essential practice.
Anticipating tension, the government had banned large gatherings in cities like Bengaluru, Mangaluru and Shivamogga for a week. Schools and colleges are closed in Udupi, where the protests began in December.
The Karnataka High Court had earlier temporarily banned religious clothes, including Hijab and saffron scarves, last month as the controversy snowballed into protests and a face-off between different sections of students.