KARNATKA HC VERDICT ON HIJAB BAN
The contention over the wearing of hijab in India has led to a fierce debate and polarization between two integral communities in the country .The controversy began with a dispute over school uniforms in Karnataka, when some Muslim students at a junior college who wished to wear hijab to courses were denied admittance because it was a breach of the college’s uniform rules. The disagreement expanded to other schools and institutions across the state in the weeks that followed, with Hindu students holding counter-protests by asking to wear saffron scarves. The Karnataka government issued an order on February 5th declaring that if policies exist, uniforms must be worn compulsorily and that no exceptions can be made for the wearing of the hijab. Several educational institutions have refused to admit Muslim girls wearing the hijab, citing this mandate.
The legal question here emerges is whether wearing a hijab constitutes an essential religious practice and whether the right to freedom of religious conscience, profess and propagation is contended as a counter to wearing hijab?
The Indian constitution explicitly clears and guarantees the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate any religion. Moreover, such a right that guarantees a negative liberty. To put it bluntly, it means that the state shall ensure that there is no interference or hindrances in accordance to exercise this particular freedom. However, the same article 25 clause (1) precisely points out that the state can restrict the right subjected to public order, decency, morality, health, and other state interests as a ban on wearing hijab in educational institutions is a reasonable restriction.
Advancing towards the other accentuate the question of whether does wearing hijab constitutes an essential religious practice.The Supreme Court (SC) has developed a sort of practical test to evaluate which religious practises are constitutionally protected and which are not. The Supreme Court ruled in the Shirur Mutt case in 1954 that the term “religion” encompasses all “integral” rituals and practises of a faith. The “essential religious activities” criteria is used to assess what is essential. For example, in 2016, the Supreme Court supported a Muslim airman’s expulsion from the Indian Air Force because he had a beard. The Armed Forces Regulations of 1964 restrict Armed Forces personnel from growing hair, with the exception of “those whose religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of the face.” The court basically ruled that growing a beard isn’t a requirement for practising Islam.Applying similar reasoning the court even in the hijab case iterated that as wearing a hijab is not an essential practice therefore high court upheld the order of the Karnataka government prescribing the wearing of uniforms in schools & pre-university colleges as per provisions of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983.
HIGH COURT’S JUDGEMENT
According to the terms of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, the high court upheld the Karnataka government's decree mandating the wearing of uniforms in schools and pre-university institutes. As a result, the court dismissed all nine Muslim girl pupils from the Udupi district's petitions.
The high court determined that Muslim women's wearing of the headscarf is not an essential religious practise in Islam.
As a result, the right to wear a hijab is not protected under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.
The High Court also ruled that requiring students to wear uniforms does not infringe the Constitution's guarantees of freedom of speech and expression (Article 19(1)(a)) or privacy (Article 21).