The hijab is not an essential religious practice, the Karnataka High Court said as it backed a ban on hijabs in classrooms on Tuesday, weeks after violent protests in many parts of the state against the restriction.
The order has been challenged in the Supreme Court by Niba Naaz, a student who was not among the five who had originally petitioned against the hijab ban.
"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," said the Karnataka High Court, refusing to strike down the state government's ban and dismissing the students' petitions.
In an order on February 5, the Karnataka government had banned clothes "which disturb equality, integrity and public order" in schools and colleges.
Upholding that order, the High Court said a school uniform is a reasonable restriction that students cannot object to.
Schools had reasonable grounds to impose dress codes that forbade the hijab in the interests of preventing divisions on religion and other grounds, the judgment said. "The aim of the regulation is to create a 'safe space'... and the ideals of egalitarianism should be readily apparent to all students," it said.
"The constitution allows us the right to profess our religion. We are shaken, we expected so much. We will not go to college without the hijab," the girls told reporters, vowing to fight the verdict.
The students had told the court that wearing the hijab is a fundamental right guaranteed under India's constitution and an essential practice.
Anticipating tension, the government had banned large gatherings in cities like Bengaluru, Mangaluru and Shivamogga for a week. Schools and colleges are closed today in Udupi, where the protests began in December.
The Karnataka High Court had earlier temporarily banned religious clothes, including Hijab and saffron scarves, last month as the controversy snowballed into protests and a face-off between different sections of students.
The massive hijab controversy erupted when students at a school in Udupi alleged that for the first time in years, they had been banned from entering class in headscarves. As the restrictions spread to more campuses, an escalation saw saffron-wearing students launching rival protests.
The state's ruling BJP has denied accusations of targeting Muslim students and trying to drive a wedge between communities. Party leaders said no religious symbols should be allowed in places of study.
"I welcome the court's decision. I appeal to everyone that the state and country have to go forward, everyone has to maintain peace by accepting the High Court order. The basic work of students is to study. So, leaving all this aside they should study and be united," Union Minister Pralhad Joshi said in Delhi.