Karnataka BJP welcomes hijab verdict, cautious reactions from opposition

Opposition leaders in Karnataka have also urged the government not to use the hijab issue for political mileage ahead of the 2023 elections in the state.
Hijab-clad students in the foreground with the Karnataka High Court in the background
Hijab-clad students in the foreground with the Karnataka High Court in the background
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The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday, March 15, dismissed the pleas of students against the hijab ban in educational institutions. While BJP ministers and legislators have welcomed the move and appealed to the public to uphold the verdict, opposition leaders have urged the state government not to use the issue for political gains ahead of the 2023 elections, and asked the state to implement the order in a proper manner.

Dr CN Ashwathnarayanan, the state Higher Education Minister, asked students to focus on their education and not get ‘distracted’ by the wearing of religious garments in classrooms. “No matter which religion they (students) belong to, they must focus on their education, they must imagine a wonderful future and work towards it. Do not waste the opportunities of life by giving undue priority to any religious garments. Everyone should live in harmony,” he said.

Meanwhile, Minister of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj KS Eshwarappa, who is known for his controversial comments, said that the HC’s verdict is welcome. “We now know clearly that the hijab is not part of any uniform. Students who stayed away from school because they wanted to wear the hijab should go to school immediately,” he said.

Veteran BJP leader BS Yedyurappa, who was replaced by Basavaraj Bommai as the Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2021, implied that the students who fought for the right to wear the hijab in classrooms must accept the High Court’s decision and not fight it further. “The decision of the High Court has proved that the Constitution is supreme over religious beliefs. I request the public to honour and not to continue further in this issue. It is a constitutional matter, even if the petitioners go to the Supreme Court it makes no difference. It is better to accept this decision and support it. Everyone who believes in the Constitution should uphold the verdict,” he said.

DK Shivakumar, the head of the Karnataka unit of the Congress, said that the implementation of the order was in the hands of the government. “My greatest concern in the hijab controversy is education, and law and order. The Karnataka High Court has given a judgement but the responsibility for education, law and order and communal harmony is still with the government of Karnataka,” he said. In a series of tweets, he also said, “I appeal to the Government of Karnataka to show mature leadership and ensure: 1) That law and order is maintained in and around schools and colleges. 2) That the education of students is not hampered, regardless of religion and gender. 3) That there is communal harmony.”

UT Khader, the Deputy Leader of Opposition from the Congress, also said that while he welcomed the HC’s verdict, the Constitution also guarantees the right to appeal against it. “The High Court order will be respected by each and everyone. The high court has given the power to each college to decide and everyone will follow the order. And our constitution and democracy give us the opportunity for appeal and it is left to those individuals to do so,” he said.

On the HC order that wearing hijab does not constitute essential religious practice, Khader said, "I  do not want to discuss that now. We want to maintain a good environment. Regarding the essential practice, we have our religious leaders, ulemas and scholars and they will look into the matter and discuss and decide.”

Tanveer Ahmed, the JD(S) national spokesperson said that, while the HC verdict must be upheld, the ruling party must not use it for political mileage ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections in the state. “We need to honour the HC judgement. There are three aspects to this. It was not represented properly by the petitioner’s counsel. The state government blew the issue out of proportion to get political mileage. Finally, no mainstream political party stood behind the petitioners. Congress raised a non-issue of Eshwarappa in the Assembly to steer clear of the hijab row,” he said. 

“In Karnataka, the attrition rate of Muslim girls is 40% in colleges. Even if this judgement adds another 5% to this number, then another 15,000 young women will be kept away from being educated,” he added. 

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