Over the last few days Karnataka has seen increasing furore over female students not being allowed to enter their educational institution premises over wearing a hijab. But a closer look at the issue at hand reveals that the controversy goes back to December 2021.
The matter which started as an isolated incident in Udupi city about the violation of prescribed uniforms by a Pre-University college which disallowed hijab in classrooms has spread to the entire state. Incidents of protests are being reported from across the state of Karnataka.
The development has sparked a raging debate on whether exemption should be granted to students to follow their religious practice of wearing a hijab to class. This is being met with strong opposition from the right wing outfits in the state.
The incident has its genesis when five students of the Udupi Women’s Pre-University (PU) college were denied entry into the institution’s premises by the college authorities on account of their hijab. According to The Print, A.H. Almas, H. Shifa, Aliya Assadi and two minor students aged 17, have been standing outside the PU college premises since December 2021, after being denied entry.
The incident spread further, with more institutions in the state denying entry to girls wearing a hijab.
Following this, several media houses published reports of boys sporting saffron coloured scarves to schools across Karnataka. Their point- if girls were allowed to wear the hijab to classrooms, they should be allowed to wear saffron scarves.
The five girls from Udupi have filed petitions with the help of their parents in the Karnataka state High Court. The hearing of their petition took place today.
What is a hijab?
As per the Cambridge dictionary online, a Hijab is ‘the head covering that some Muslim women wear when they are outside’.
Protests against and for the Hijab have now spread beyond the region of Udupi. The towns of Shivamogga, Harihara, Davenagere and Mandya have also seen protests by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal over the matter.
A right group Hindu Jagrana Vedike, asking students to take saffron scarves, was caught on camera and confronted by NDTV.
The state has witnessed protests in the town of Shivamogga where saffron clad boys were seen chanting slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
In two other towns of Harihara and Davenagere, large gatherings have been banned after hijab-wearing protesters and those wearing saffron shawls threw stones at each other, reported NDTV. The police used teargas and batons to break them up.
Meanwhile, in Mandya, a Muslim girl was heckled by a large number of boys wearing saffron scarves. The boys were chanting slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, to which the girl responded by chanting ‘Allah hu Akbar’. The female student has been identified as one Muskan by NDTV.
The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College, one of the largest colleges in Udupi also saw protests erupt there on 8 February 2022. There have also been unfortunate incidents of stone pelting in some parts of Karnataka. The miscreants have not been identified so far.
On February 5, 2022 the College Development Committee (CDC) of Karnataka took out an order which, via the powers in the hands of the state by section 133(2) of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 put in force a ‘dress code’ for the educational institutions in the state.
The order issued by the government cites some previous rulings of the Supreme Court and High Court namely the ‘Fatima Hussain Syed Vs Bharat Education society and others case, AIR 2003 Bombay75’, ‘Madras HC, in V Kamal Vs Dr. MGR Medical University’ and ‘Venkatsubrao matriculation higher secondary school staff association Vs Venkatsubrao matriculation higher secondary school management case (number : 2MLJ653, 2004)’. For the first case the order highlights the decision of the principal to not allow the head scarf was ruled as not being against article 25 of the constitution and in the latter two cases the right of the university to modify the dress code is upheld is mentioned.
The citing of these previous Supreme Court and High Court judgements on similar disputes on dress code in other states of the country the order says that if the institution does not have a mandatory uniform then a ‘dress code’ that does not disturb equality, unity and social order should be followed by the students.
What does the constitution say on such religious matters?
The debates around the issue have seen the Article 19(1) of the constitution as well as the Article 25 and 14 being invoked.
Article 14: Refers to equality before the law.
Article 19(1): Pertains to the protection of the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens.
Article 25: this refers to the Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
Are there similar precedents?
There was a similar incidence in 2009 in Madhya Pradesh, where Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School expelled a student, Mohammed Salim, for not sporting a clean shave. The student challenged his expulsion in the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
he Madhya Pradesh High Court ruled that “The Minority Institution has a right to frame its own bye-laws in accordance with the Constitutional provisions for the purpose of admission of the students as has been held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of P.A. Inamdar and others v. State of Maharashtra and others, reported in AIR 2005 SC 3326.”
The boy, Mohammad Salim, further moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of a school regulation preventing him from sporting a beard, as per the Indian Express. The Supreme Court bench challenged the previous order by Madhya Pradesh High Court and gave respite to the boy from expulsion.
“Terming the expulsion of 17-year-old Salim, a vegetable vendor’s son, as “ridiculous”, the court said by the same logic, no Sikh student could study in a school.” reported the Hindustan Times.
The protests have taken a violent turn in the state of Karnataka which has resulted in a holiday being declared in the state’s educational institutions for three days.
This article has been edited on 12 February 2022 to include further details on the section on the ‘Dress Code’
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