Explained: After hijab verdict, here's who can decide whether headscarf allowed

The student petitioners will now approach the Supreme Court, challenging the High Court verdict.
Students in hijab sitting in protest
Students in hijab sitting in protest
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After months of unrest in Karnataka, the state’s High Court delivered a verdict on whether Muslim girl students will be allowed to wear the hijab to educational institutions. On Tuesday, March 15, the court dismissed the student petitioners’ pleas against the ban on hijab in classes and campuses. It opined that “wearing the hijab is not an essential practice under Islam”. It also allowed the government to prescribe a uniform and ruled that the “uniform is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights which the students cannot object to”.

What next?

The High Court upheld a February 5 order by the Karnataka government, which permits the ‘school managements’ and ‘college development committees’ to decide on the dress code for students. In government schools, students should adhere to the dress code prescribed by the government while in private schools the dress code will be decided by the school management, the order states. In pre-university colleges that come under the state Pre-university Education Department, the College Development Committee (CDC) or College Supervision Committee can set the dress code.

In case an educational institution has prescribed no dress code, the government order says that “such attire that would accord with equality and integrity, and would not disrupt public order” would be permitted.

What started with one college in Udupi snowballed into a state-wide issue with colleges in several districts banning Muslim students from wearing the hijab to class. Although uniforms are not mandatory in colleges, in many educational institutions in Karnataka, CDCs – often headed by local MLAs – have been calling for a dress code and disallowing hijabs.

The February 5 order invokes Section 133 (2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, which states that a uniform attire has to be worn compulsorily and that private school administrators can choose a uniform of their choice.

Hundreds of students unable to attend classes

In Udupi district, at least 230 Muslim girl students have missed classes and examinations this month due to the hijab being disallowed in class, as per data compiled by Muslim Okkoota, a coalition of organisations representing the Muslim community in Udupi. Similarly, several students in Chikkamagaluru, Shivamogga, Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada have also been missing classes.

For the six student petitioners from the Udupi Government PU College who petitioned the High Court, the next recourse is approaching the Supreme Court.

“Wearing the hijab is an essential practice in Islam. Karnataka HC’s verdict on the hijab is a bad judgment. We'll challenge it before the Supreme Court. We hope that justice will prevail in the Supreme Court,” senior advocate AM Dhar, representing one of petitioners in the hijab row case, told ANI.

In February, the apex court had refused to transfer the petitions against the hijab ban from the Karnataka High Court, stating that the latter should be allowed to hear the pleas first and decide. Chief Justice NV Ramana had stated that it was “too early to interfere” when senior advocate Kapil Sibal told the court that a petition seeking transfer of the petitions from the Karnataka HC had been filed.

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