With the Karnataka High Court set to pronounce its verdict on the hijab issue on Tuesday morning, prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure have been imposed in parts of Karnataka, including Bengaluru.
In Bengaluru, Police Commissioner Kamal Pant issued orders prohibiting all gatherings, protests and celebrations in public places from March 15 to 21. High Court officials held meetings with senior police officials on Monday evening.
In Udupi — where a section of girls in a pre-university college first started protests in January this year seeking to wear hijab inside their classrooms — and Dakshina Kannada, the district administrations have declared a holiday for all schools and colleges on Tuesday.
On February 25, the full bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justices Krishna S Dixit and Jaibunnisa Mohideen Khazi had reserved judgment on a batch of petitions filed by Muslim girls from government pre-university colleges in Udupi district.
In an interim order on February 10, the bench had said that “pending consideration of all these petitions, we restrain all the students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls, (bhagwa) scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like, within the classroom, until further orders.” It had said the order “is confined to such institutions wherein the college development committees have prescribed the student dress code/ uniform.”
During the hearing, which began on February 10, the petitioners claimed the right to wear the hijab in classrooms as part of the freedom of religion and freedom of expression, while opposing a February 5 order of the Karnataka education department suggesting that hijabs can be prohibited.
The Karnataka Advocate General said the government order was innocuous and did not direct the prohibition of religious attire but left it open to institutions. The AG, however, admitted that certain parts of the order may have been unnecessary. The state government also said that wearing of the hijab does not constitute an essential religious practice.
The full bench was constituted after Justice Dixit, who was initially hearing the matter as a single judge, referred it to a larger bench.
Irrespective of the High Court order on Tuesday, the matter is expected to go to the Supreme Court. On February 11, the Supreme Court had declined to grant urgent listing for an appeal against the High Court’s interim order, and asked the petitioners not to “spread” the controversy to “larger levels”.
“I don’t want to express anything. Don’t spread these things to larger levels…We also know what is happening there in the state as well as in the hearings also. And you also have to think over whether it’s proper to bring those things to Delhi, national level issues and all that,” Chief Justice of India N V Ramana had told Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat, who was representing students from Udupi.
When Kamat urged the court to take up the matter since it involved legal issues that it must examine, the CJI said: “Definitely, we will examine. Definitely, if there is something wrong, we will definitely protect. We have to protect the Constitutional rights of everyone… Let us see. At the appropriate time, definitely we will interfere. Let us see when we have to.”
Police and education officials are hoping that the issue can be settled quickly and quietly, especially as the Class X exams in state schools are scheduled to begin March 28 and the pre-university exams (for Classes XI and XII) are in April.