Muslim girls in hijabs turned away by Indian college a day after court ban

Students have gone to India’s Supreme Court to challenge lower court order banning headscarves

Namita Singh
Wednesday 16 March 2022 14:34 GMT
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Karnataka student mobbed outside college for wearing hijab

A day after an Indian court upheld a government order banning hijabs in schools and colleges in the state of Karnataka, several Muslim girls in headscarves and burqas were turned away from educational institutions.

In Karnataka’s Shivamogga district, Kamala Nehru College authorities barred 15 girls from entering the institution because they were wearing the traditional veils.

“Today was the last day to submit our assignments but we are not allowed inside the class,” one of the students told The Times of India. “We requested them [college authorities] to allow us but the college said the court order has to be followed. It is not the fault of principal or the teachers. Actually, we did not get justice.”

The six Muslim girls from Udupi who originally moved court seeking permission to attend classes wearing a hijab have now approached the Supreme Court to challenge the Karnataka High Court’s verdict.

They have vowed to continue their fight till they get justice. “We had moved the high court seeking permission to wear the hijab in the classrooms ... We will not go to the college without the hijab, but we will fight for it,” one of the girls told PTI news agency.

The students said in their petitions that wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under India’s constitution and essential practice of Islam.

But the state’s highest court on Tuesday dismissed the plea, saying “wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form part of the essential religious practice in the Islamic faith” as it added that a school uniform is a reasonable restriction that students cannot object to.

The court held that hijab is a matter of attire and cannot be treated as fundamental to Islamic faith.

File photo: People hold placards and candles in Bengaluru, India, during a protest against banning Muslim girls from wearing the hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka on 19 February
File photo: People hold placards and candles in Bengaluru, India, during a protest against banning Muslim girls from wearing the hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka on 19 February (AP)

The ruling led activists and citizens to take to social media to say that the order was disappointing and just another example of denying democratic freedoms to Indian Muslims.

The controversy that has been simmering for days began on 28 December last year after authorities at the Pre-University College in Udupi prohibited students from wearing the traditional Muslim headscarves inside the classroom.

Six students of the school resisted against the ban by sitting outside the classrooms in their headscarves and subsequently moved the high court seeking relief. But the issue soon ballooned into a national row pitting students into protests and counter-protests along religious lines, as several colleges across the state imposed a similar ban.

A Supreme Court bench headed by chief justice NV Ramana on Wednesday agreed to hear the challenge. But the matter will be listed only after Holi vacations, which end on 20 March.

“The urgency is that there are many girls who have to appear in examinations,” senior advocate Sanjay Hegde told judges but the apex court said “let us see” as other cases have also been mentioned.

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