Supreme Court Justice Hemant Gupta today asked a lawyer who argued for the right to wear the hijab in educational institutions: “You can’t do illogical purposes with it. The right to dress includes the right to undress?”
The lawyer, Dev Datt Kamat, replied, “No one undresses in a school.”
This was part of a longer conversation between the court and the lawyer, in which Judge Gupta also noted: “The problem here is that one community insists on wearing a headscarf (hijab) while all other communities follow the dress code. Students from other communities do not say that we want to wear this or that.”
When lawyer Kamat said that many students wear rudraksh or cross as a religious symbol, the judge responded: “That is worn in the shirt. Nobody is going to lift the shirt and see if anyone rudraksh.”
The court hears arguments over a series of pleas challenging Karnataka’s Supreme Court decision refusing to lift the ban on hijab — scarf that covers a woman’s hair, neck and sometimes shoulders — in state educational institutions .
The court of Judges Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia on Monday set out an important issue at the heart of the case: “You may have a religious right to practice whatever you want. But can you practice and bring that right to a school which is uniformly as part of your dress? That will be the question.”
As to whether wearing a hijab is an essential practice under Article 25 of the Constitution, the bank had said: “The issue can be modulated in another way. It may be essential, it may not be essential.”
“What we’re saying is whether you can insist on wearing your religious practice in a government agency. Because the preamble says ours is a secular country,” the bench noted at an earlier hearing.
The row started on January 1 at Government PU College in Udupi, where six female students said they were not allowed to enter the classrooms wearing hijab. They started a protest, which quickly became a nationwide problem. Counter-demonstrations by Hindu students wearing saffron scarves also spread to other states. The headmaster said students used to wear hijabs on campus but removed them before entering the classroom; the students said he’s lying.
After students were stopped in other places as well, several petitions were filed with the Karnataka High Court in which Muslim students cited Articles 14, 19 and 25 of the Constitution.
The state BJP government, meanwhile, justified the ban under the Education Act of 1983. In a Feb. 5 order, it said the government reserves the right to issue instructions to schools and colleges “to maintain public order.” to ensure”. Colleges under the Karnataka Board of Pre-University Education must follow the dress code prescribed by the institution, it said. If that is not resolved, clothing that “does not pose a threat to equality, unity and public order” should be worn.
The Supreme Court ruled that the hijab is not an “essential religious practice” that can be protected under the constitution.