Updated: February 15, 2022 12:16:04 pm
Arguing that the Centre-run Kendriya Vidyalayas give an option for Muslim students to wear headscarves in colours that match their school uniform, petitioners against the hijab ban in some government educational institutions in Karnataka on Monday asked the Karnataka High Court to permit them to do the same.
The plea was made in the form of a memo placed before the full bench, comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice J M Khazi and Justice Krishna M Dixit, which is hearing a batch of petitions filed by Muslims girls from pre-university colleges in Udupi who have been barred from classes for wearing hijabs in alleged violation of uniforms prescribed by a college committee.
“As far as Muslim girls are concerned, they are permitted to wear scarves matching with the bottom wear with red hem on corners” by Kendriya Vidyalayas, Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat told the full bench.
“In fact, the Kendriya Vidyalayas even today, they permit by notification, even though they have uniforms. Even at the national level, this has been the tradition. Governments have permitted headscarves to be worn,” Kamat said.
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“Headscarves for Muslim girls and headgear allowance for Sikhs. This is in line with Article 25 of the Constitution,” he argued.
The case was adjourned for further hearing on Tuesday.
On Monday, the counsel for petitioners told the court the Muslim girls were wearing hijabs to their classes until a Karnataka government order of February 5 legitimised a ban.
One of the main contentions of the counsel was that the state government, which has the responsibility of maintaining public order, had outsourced the responsibility of deciding on the fundamental right to freedom of religion (subject to public order) to a College Development Council (CDC) through the February 5 order.
“The government order declaration that wearing a headscarf is not protected under Article 25 is totally erroneous… delegation to a CDC to decide whether to permit students to wear headscarves or not is totally illegal. As lordships are aware, under Article 25, the only restrictions which come to the aid of the state in restricting freedom of religion is public order,” Kamat argued.
“Public order is a state responsibility, it is a responsibility of the executive. The question that will arise for consideration is whether a CDC, consisting of an MLA and subordinates, will decide whether exercising this fundamental freedom under Article 25 is permissible or not. An extra statutory authority has been made the guardian of our Constitutional freedom, which is totally impermissible,” he said.
The counsel for the girls said that the use of headscarves does not have to be an essential religious practice for it to be considered for protection under the right to freedom of religion.
“If there is a practice that a believer thinks is part of his faith and that practice by itself is innocuous, it is not something, my lord, which by itself violates public order. By itself, it does not infringe on anyone’s freedom. In this context, the question of essential religious practice will not arise. It is simply a facet of belief,” the senior advocate argued.
“Till the GO (February 5), they have been going with hijabs. It is an innocuous practice. State should facilitate freedom of religion not obstruct,” he argued.
Earlier, when the hearing began Monday, Chief Justice Awasthi called for responsible reporting by the media on the issue. “My earnest request to the media is to be more responsible. We all have to behave like more responsible citizens. We are not saying anything to the media, we are not on that issue. Our request is that the media must see its responsibility as the fourth pillar of democracy,” the chief justice said.
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