The Supreme Court will deliver its judgement on Thursday on petitions challenging the March 15 Karnataka High Court verdict dismissing a batch of petitions filed by Muslim girls studying in pre-university colleges in Udupi seeking right to wear hijab in classrooms.
A two-judge bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia will pronounce the verdict at 10.30am. The court had reserved its decision in the matter on September 22 after hearing extensive arguments by the petitioners as well as the state.
The HC while holding that wearing the hijab is not an essential religious practice in Islam and freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution is subject to reasonable restrictions, also upheld an order issued on February 5 by the state, which suggested that wearing hijab can be restricted in government colleges where uniforms are prescribed, and ruled that such curbs under norms for college uniforms are “constitutionally permissible”.
Appealing against this, some of the Muslim students approached the SC saying the “right to wear hijab comes under the ambit of ‘expression’ and is thus protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution”. They contended that the right to wear hijab is protected by ‘right to conscience’ under Article 25 of the Constitution, which is an individual right, and that the HC ought not to have applied the ‘Essential Religious Practices Test’.
The All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board that also appealed against the HC verdict contended that “as far as interpretation of scriptures in the holy Quran are concerned, there is a consensus amongst religious scholars…that practice of hijab is ‘wajib’ (mandatory), a set of obligations, which if not followed, he/she will commit ‘sin’ or become a ‘sinner’.”
The HC order came at the end of intensive protests which saw a section of students wearing saffron shawls to the pre-university colleges to oppose those wearing hijab.
Pointing out that “women are revolting” against the hijab even in constitutionally Islamic countries such as Iran, the Karnataka government told the SC during the hearing that what unfolded in the state before some college development committees banned hijab in their respective educational institutions was not “spontaneous” but “part of a larger conspiracy”.
The state said that none of the students was wearing hijab before but in 2022, a movement started on social media by the now-banned Popular Front of India. This “was designed to create a kind of an agitation based on religious feelings of people, and as a part, there were continuous social media messages that (said), start wearing hijab”.
The state also denied charges that the ban was intended to target the minority community and said the government was forced to intervene due to the situation created.