Few female students from the Government PU College for Girls in Udupi protested, stating that the institution had denied them access to classrooms while wearing a hijab. The MLA for Udupi BJP, chairman of the college’s development committee, instructed them to adhere to the college’s dress code in the classroom. Students filed a writ suit in the Karnataka High Court, as well as a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission.
Following this event, a number of boys from Kundapur’s Government PU College wore saffron shawls to class in protest of certain girls wearing hijab. The Kundapura MLA met with parents and advised students to follow the college’s dress code until the government made a final judgment on the matter. Such incidents have been recorded at various colleges in the coastal Karnataka region of Udupi. Students from IDSG Government First Grade College came to Chikkamagaluru wearing blue shawls, stating that wearing a headscarf in college as part of religious practice was acceptable.
The government issued a circular, urging students to follow the institution’s consistent principles until the High Court issued its ruling. The Karnataka High Court after hearing the petitions issued an interim ruling where it was stated that institutions in the states might reopen, but students could not wear religious attire while the case was being heard.
WHAT DOES INDIAN LAW SAY?
Seeing through the laws that have been laid down, the right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which protects the wearing of a hijab. A right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution can only be limited by the “reasonable constraints” provided in Article 19(2). As a student, silently wearing a hijab or headscarf while attending class cannot be claimed to be a practice that disrupts “public order” or morality.
The prohibition of headscarves breaches Article 14’s fundamental right to equality because numerous other religious customs, such as wearing Janeu or turbans, are not explicitly prohibited. In addition to that, it also goes against Article 21’s freedom to choose, which guarantees everyone’s right to life and personal liberty.
Previously, a few high courts have given certain judgments on similar issues. In the case of Amnah Bint Basheer v. CBSE (2016), the Kerala High Court ruled in favor of the nuns who were not allowed to sit for the pre-medical entrance test as due to the dress code, they were not allowed to wear headscarves. The court said that the concern of the petitioner is the dress code and since her faith in religion is not against public order, health, and morality, her right to freedom of religion cannot be restricted. She is allowed to sit for the exam. But, since the dress code was to prevent students from hiding any kind of cheating material, she was asked to come early so that a female invigilator could do the proper checking.
Similarly, in 2015, in the case of Nadha Raheem v. CBSE, the court said, “However, it cannot be ignored that in our country, with its varied and diverse religions and customs, it cannot be insisted that a particular dress code be followed, failing which a student would be prohibited from sitting for the examinations.”
The right to wear a hijab is not restricted under any of the laws. So, if students want to sit in the classroom, wants to study, wants to learn, they should not be discouraged from doing so just because they have covered their head.
ARGUMENTS OF BOTH THE SIDES
Many people in the country today are against the hijab ban. They believe that these girls have the right to choice and the right to freedom of religion. Advocates of the hijab say that it is an “essential religious practice” and hence shouldn’t and can’t be banned.
Some believe that the protest is being furthered to divert the minds of people towards communalism rather than focusing on real issues like unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, etc. at the time before elections. Maybe this is just an interplay of politics. Adding to these opinions, The Campus Front of India said, “an organized nationwide conspiracy [that] is systematically executed by the right-wing Hindutva groups to dehumanize Muslim women.”
Professor Faizan Mustafa also shared his opinion by saying, “The assertion test is better than the essentiality test.” It clearly says that the right to religion guarantees individuals the right to assert what they feel is an essential religious practice.” Hence, according to him, the court, while deciding, should also keep in mind that there can be two interpretations of the law and the court should see what the specific belief of the specific person practicing his/her/religion is.
People from other countries have also shared their opinions on the issue. U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain said, “Hijab bans in schools violate religious freedom and stigmatize and marginalize women and girls.” “Religious freedom includes the ability to choose one’s religious attire. “The Indian State of Karnataka should not determine the permissibility of religious clothing. “Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai also shared her opinion on the hijab controversy in Karnataka. She tweeted, “Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying.”
Advocates of the Hijab ban believe that since the hijab is not mentioned explicitly in the Quran, it is just ideated by patriarchal mindsets, like the purdah system. They say that they are empowering women to free themselves from all these obligations. As Jim Wallis stated, “the best response to bad religion is better religion, not secularism.” At the same time, forcing one’s choices and opinions on others and telling women what to wear and what to not, teasing women, banning them from classrooms in the name of empowerment is evidently not empowering women. Colleges and educational institutions say that hijab is against college uniforms and dress codes must be followed in the college. Well, in my humble opinion, just a headscarf isn’t hampering with the uniform in any way (as long as the other parts of the uniform stay intact, which is allegedly also being violated). It is of paramount importance that politics should not be allowed to invade the venerated realm of education.
THE POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF A HIJAB BAN
A ban on the wearing of headscarves by Muslim women could have an adverse effect on secular notions of the country. The hijab is currently under attack, and large Christian crosses, Sikh turbans, and Jewish yarmulkes, among other things, maybe targeted in the future. The government would not be able to keep itself away from dwelling on the highly religious sentiments of sects.
It would also cause a divide between religious communities and give heat to communal ideas in India. This may severely damage unity, integrity, and fraternity, which enjoy their place in the provisions of the constitution. Not only this, this may also attract heat from Muslim countries, which would be harmful to India’s foreign relations.
As has been observed through experience countries that previously banned hijab like France, Germany, etc., may develop a huge gap in education. As students would be unwilling to attend school without a hijab, they might consider dropping out as an option. which would in turn increase illiteracy among Muslim women. Not only that, it may also lead to an increase in the employment gap and labor force participation gap.
At the end of the day, the question is not whether wearing the hijab is an essential religious practice or not or whether it is a patriarchal obligation. It is whether it is right or wrong to restrict students from getting educated just because their head is covered with a scarf. And it is highly wrong. Just wearing a headscarf should not come in between the way of education. And calling this ‘being done for women’s empowerment is again a pretense. Because that is not how we empower our women by not letting them study just because of a headscarf.
Though, it might be a good step towards removing obligatory shackles as a lot of countries have already done that. But India is a more religious country if the belief is that it is a patriarchal notion to obligate Muslim women to wear a headscarf, educate them about freedom of choice rather than compelling them to make a choice between education and hijab.
This article has been written by Harmanpreet, IInd Year