Hijab row erupted in January after move by a college in Udupi. (File/Representational Photo)
The Supreme Court has asked for the Karnataka government's response to petitions against the High Court's refusal to lift a ban on wearing of the hijab in educational institutions. Next hearing was set for September 5, though the bench today was not pleased at some of the petitioners having sought adjournment after first asking for urgent hearing.
"We won't allow forum shopping. You only wanted urgent hearing. What changed now?” remarked the bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
The Karnataka High Court, in March, held that wearing of hijab is not a part of the essential religious practice that can be protected under Article 25 of the Constitution. It had dismissed petitions by a section of Muslim students from Government Pre-University Girls College in Udupi, seeking permission to wear hijab inside classroom. A number of individuals and organisations went to the Supreme Court against the verdict.
These pleas were mentioned before a bench headed by the then Chief Justice NV Ramana for urgent hearing on several occasions, but the case was not listed for hearing. It was finally put on the list in the last week of Justice Ramana's tenure, and thus came up today, which happened to be the court's first working day since new CJI UU Lalit's oath-taking.
One of the appeals says "step-motherly behaviour of government authorities... prevented students from practising their faith and resulted in an unwanted law and order situation".
It says the High Court "vehemently failed to apply its mind and was unable to understand the gravity of the situation as well as the core aspect of the Essential Religious Practices enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution of India".
"Wearing of hijab or headscarf is a practice that is essential to the practice of Islam," it says.
The row began in January when Government PU College in Udupi barred six female students wearing the hijab from entering the campus. It cited a uniform code. The young women held a sit-in at the college gate.
This led to a counter of sorts - some Hindu students of several colleges in Udupi started attending classes wearing saffron scarves.
The row spread to other parts of Karnataka too, with a number of Muslim groups seeing it as an infringement on their freedoms.
The state government intervened and said all students must "adhere to the uniform" -- thus, in essence, both hijab and saffron scarves were banned.
On February 5, the education board released a circular that students can only wear the uniform approved by the institute and that no other religious attire will be allowed in colleges.
The order stated that in case a uniform is not prescribed by management committees, students should wear dresses that "go well with the idea of equality and unity, and do not disturb the social order".