Hijab Row: Nearly 800 professionals write open letter over hijab ban, show solidarity to Muslim women

Nearly 800 professionals, including lawyers, judges, social activists, journalists and politicians have written a open letter, condemning the violation of constitutional rights of young Muslim students who have been denied entry into educational institutions for wearing a hijab.

In an open letter, the signatories wrote, “We are deeply concerned with, and strongly condemn the violation of constitutional rights of young Muslim women who have been denied entry into educational spaces due to their wearing a hijab.

We are equally concerned by the interim order of the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court restraining “students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls (bhagwa), scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom.”

Referring to the incidents of Muslim students and staff asked to remove hijab outside the campus, the signatories have said that Muslim women are being publicly humiliated and are being forced to remove their hijab before entering schools and colleges, purportedly on instructions of the district administrations.

“This disrobing of Muslim girls and women in public view is inhuman, derogatory and an affront to the Constitution and amounts to the public humiliation of the entire community. We hang our heads in shame as having failed in protecting their basic right to life with dignity.”

The members of legal fraternity say that they are aware that the framing of an issue gains paramount importance in the understanding of the rights at stake.

“The High Court has chosen to proceed on an understanding linked exclusively to the right to freedom of conscience, enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.”

Referring to the Kerala High court’s decision in Amnah Bint Basheer v. Central Board of Secondary Education, the professionals pointed out that Kerala HC found that the “hijab was an essential religious practice protected under Article 25.”

However, the issue here, not only pertains to the rights recognized in Article 25 but also more foundationally to the Fundamental Rights of the students under the golden triangle of Articles 14, 19 and 21, read with the specific protection against discrimination in Article 15.

The signatories which included about 765 signatories from various part of the country said that “The effect of such a decision is the pushing of Muslim women out of
education, and an exacerbation of the crisis of education in our country. The denial of education to women on grounds only of wearing the hijab is not a reasonable or proportionate restriction of their rights. The imposition of an absolute uniformity contrary to the autonomy, privacy and dignity of Muslim women is unconstitutional.

Therefore, women have the right to choose to wear hijab, and equally, to choose against the imposition of hijab. The imposition of uniform in Government establishments is nothing new, and has been moulded to the syncretic tradition of our State,” they wrote.

The signatories noted that Muslim girls have worn hijab, and Sikh boys have worn turbans, often in the colour of the uniform. Students from other communities have worn various markers of their religion on their body along with the uniform.

“However, the current attack on the Muslim women’s rights is not a novel or an isolated incident, but must be acknowledged to be part of the communal polarization in Karnataka and across the country, with members of minority communities being attacked through lynching, hate speech, witch hunts and mob attacks. It must be remembered that the background within which these educational institutions have denied entry to girls wearing hijabs is one of increasing Islamophobia and violence against Muslims, including open calls for genocide, social and economic boycotts, and attacks against inter-faith couples. In this context, the denial of entry to Muslim girls is in furtherance of Islamophobic violence, and must be critiqued in this context,” the letter read.

The eminent personalities have showed full and unconditional support to the young Muslim women in Karnataka who are protesting for their right to an education, and their religious freedom.

“Education cannot, should not, and must not be denied to anyone based on any marker of religious identity. Students who profess the Hindu faith wear different markers of their faith to school every day including bindi, tilaks, vibuthi – however these markers have never evoked a reaction similar to what we see against Muslim students today,” it said.

The letter further read that educational space is a place where values of plurality, tolerance and respect must be cultivated, not buried. Therefore, attempts to enforce cultural homogeneity strikes at the heart of the Constitution and must be resisted. “We reiterate that it is the right of every student to be able to gain an education free of untoward interference from the
State.”

“It is the duty of the higher courts to breathe life into Article 25 of the Constitution. As legal professionals committed to the rule of law and upholding the dignity and liberty of all people, we reaffirm our commitment to the constitutional rights of these students to education, autonomy, privacy and dignity, and to freedom from discrimination.”

Concluding the letter, the signatories implored all stakeholders to adhere to Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of constitutional morality. “We urge the Karnataka High Court to take judicial notice of the public humiliation of Muslim students and staff and immediately pass necessary orders prohibiting any such derogatory practice.”

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