Karnataka HC Misinformed on Hijab ‘Essentiality’, Overlooks Principle of Inclusivity: SIO

The Karnataka High Court’s decision upholding the ban on hijab in classrooms is highly problematic and distressing, says the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO).

In a statement released on Wednesday, the student’s organization said, “The HC decision overlooks the key issue of access to education and instead includes an unnecessary, misinformed and lengthy treatise on the place of hijab in the Islamic faith. The court has also given a particular meaning to uniform and dress code, where the stress is on homogeneity rather than uniformity. The principles of tolerance, balance, and accommodation that are indispensable in a plural, multi-religious and culturally diverse country like India, have been ignored.”

SIO said that they cannot agree with the court’s selective reading of a particular English translation of the Quran while excluding all other interpretations and translations of the Quran, and its reliance on these selective sources to hold that hijab is not an “essential” practice of Islam.

“In fact, we believe that this case is an illustration of the inherent defects of the Essential Religious Practices doctrine. The mandate of Article 25 is to see whether a particular act is a legitimate religious practice among the adherents of the faith, and, if yes, whether or not it collides with public order, morality or health. It should not be the job of the courts to decide what is or is not essential to any faith,” it added.

On Tuesday, Karnataka High Court dismissed the petitions filed by Muslim girl students, seeking protection of their right to wear hijab in educational institutions in the state.

“We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith… The prescription of school uniform is only a reasonable restriction that is constitutionally permissible which the students cannot object to,” the court said.

Noting that the decision also sets a dangerous precedent in rewarding “rule by mob”, SIO said, “When the court draws a false parallel of hijab with a saffron shawl, it essentially validates the strategy of Hindutva groups who had started distributing saffron shawls as a political gimmick to intimidate Muslim women students and counter their demand for wearing hijab.”

The court has failed to appreciate the difference between a historically followed practice like hijab, which many adherents consider as an obligation of their faith, and a political gimmick like the saffron shawl, they said.

Highlighting that Sikh students are allowed to wear turban and kirpan, the student’s organization said, “The allowing of turbans and even kirpans for students of the Sikh community is a reflection of a broad principle of tolerance and empathy. The question of hijab could have been dealt with in a similar vein.”

“Muslims have been steadily striving to improve the educational standards of their children, and much of this has to do with an intrinsic trust that public institutions in the country will not discriminate between Muslims and others merely because of their faith.”

“In fact, hijab and uniforms have coexisted in thousands of institutes across the country for decades without any disturbance to public order whatsoever. The denial of hijab-wearing students from entering classrooms is going to send out an extremely demoralizing message, tantamount to declaring that public educational institutions will not be respectful of their faith and their choices,” SIO said adding that this has the debilitating potential to push back the trajectory of education of Muslim women by many years.

Following Karnataka High Court’s decision, a Muslim student Niba Naaz, who was not among the five who had originally petitioned against the hijab ban has challenged in the order in the supreme court.

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