Indian politicians, journalists find court's decision to uphold hijab ban 'disappointing, violation of rights'

Published March 15, 2022
Students sit and study in the playground of a college in Bangalore on Tuesday, after an Indian court upheld a local ban on the hijab in classrooms, weeks after the edict stoked violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country's Muslim minority. — AFP
Students sit and study in the playground of a college in Bangalore on Tuesday, after an Indian court upheld a local ban on the hijab in classrooms, weeks after the edict stoked violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country's Muslim minority. — AFP

An Indian high court upheld a ban on the hijab in Karnataka classrooms on Tuesday, weeks after the edict stoked violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country's Muslim minority.

Karnataka state was on edge for several weeks after a small group of girls in their late teens were prevented from wearing the garment on school grounds at the end of last year.

Demonstrations snowballed across the state and police used tear gas to disperse angry crowds as more schools imposed their own bans and radical Hindu groups staged boisterous counter-demonstrations.

After weeks of deliberations, Karnataka's high court ruled that the wearing of the hijab "does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith".

Its judgement said schools had reasonable grounds to impose dress codes that forbade the hijab in the interests of preventing divisions on religion and other grounds.

The hijab is an important article of faith in Islam and many in Karnataka say that Muslim girls have worn it in schools for decades, just as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have done with symbols of their respective religions.

Critics accuse authorities in Karnataka, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, of seeking to drive a wedge between religious communities that have coexisted peacefully for generations.

Read: Hijab bans deepen Hindu-Muslim fault lines in India's Karnataka state

Indian politicians and journalists criticised the court's decision, with many terming it a violation of fundamental rights and pointing out rising religious extremism in their country.

Occupied Jammu and Kashmir's former chief minister Omar Abdullah said he was "very disappointed" by the court's decision, pointing out that the matter was related to the right of a woman to choose how she wants to dress. "That the court didn't uphold this basic right is a travesty," he added.

Similar sentiments were expressed by another former chief minister of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, who said, "On one hand, we talk about empowering women yet we are denying them the right to a simple choice. It isn't just about religion but the freedom to choose."

Prominent Muslim lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi also shared a 15-point long thread on Twitter, saying among other things, that the verdict "suspended fundamental rights to freedom of religion, culture, freedom of speech and expression".

"Not even other people of the same religion have the right to decide essentiality. It is between the individual & God. State should be allowed to interfere in religious rights only if such acts of worship harm others. Headscarf does not harm anyone," he said.

"Did the court have anything to say on the way Muslim women were bullied and heckled into taking off their hijabs? The way little girls were stopped from going to school until they took off their headscarves at the gate?" questioned NDTV's consulting editor Nidhi Razdan.

Another journalist Shams Irfan expressed his fear over what would happen after the verdict, saying, "The judgment that is exclusive to schools and colleges will soon be implemented on the streets and public spaces by goons.

"That is what it was always about."

Journalist Aarefa Johari commented that the issue was "always about targeting Indian Muslims, and now the court has joined in".

"#Hijab is a fundamental right, it's the question of bodily autonomy as much as it is a question of faith. The court stated uniform prescription supercedes fundamental rights. V disappointing judgement," said journalist Sumedha Pal.

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