Recently, Students in Karnataka were stopped from entering a college for wearing Hijab. Hijab is a head covering worn in public places by some Muslim women. This issue raises legal questions on right to freedom of religion under article 25 of the Indian Constitution. Article 25 is a Fundamental right and part of basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience & the right freely to profess, practice & propagate religion. The state shall ensure that there is no interference or obstacles to exercise right to freedom of religion. State can restrict the right for the ground of public order, decency, morality, health & other state interest.
Right to freedom of religion implies freedom of individual to mould his relation with god, declaration of one’s religious beliefs and faith openly & freely, performance of religious worship, rituals, ceremonies & exhibition of beliefs & ideas & transmission of one’s religious beliefs to others or exposition of the tenets of one’s religion.
In the last few years Supreme Court of India has evolved a practical test to determine what is essential practice & non-essential practice in a religion. The Court named the test as “essential religious practice test”. The test was originated in the Shirur Mutt judgement in 1954 where Supreme Court came up with the essential religious practice test. Some scholars criticize the test and agree that it is better to prohibit religious practices for public order rather than determine essential and non-essential religious practice. The Supreme Court of India use the test in order to keep certain practices out and to ensure individual freedom in the several instances.
The courts ruled on several occasion over the Hijab with conflicting judgment. The Court held that the practice of wearing Hijab constitutes an essential religious practice but it does not allow to violate the dress codes in the particular places like schools, colleges, offices, etc. The students are supposed to wear dresses prescribed by the school or colleges in order to maintain the decorum of the educational institutions.
The right to freedom of religion should not run contrary to the mandatory dress codes of school, colleges, etc, the dress code prescribed by these institution are not intended to violate one’s fundamental right to freedom of religion but to maintain decorum & discipline in the institutions.