Karnataka hijab row: Religious right is fine, but what about school dress code, asks SC

Karnataka hijab row: Religious right is fine, but what about school dress code, asks SC

The Supreme Court on Monday asserted that while wearing hijab is one’s religious right, it is still a question if it can be worn to a school which itself has a dedicated dress code.

The apex court made the statement while hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict which refused to lift the state government’s ban on hijab in religious institutions.

“You may have a religious right to practice whatever you want to practice. But can you practice and take that right to a school which has uniform as a part of dress you have to wear? That will be a question,” a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia asked advocate Sanjay Hedge who was representing the petitioners.

Also read: Uneasy BJP central command wants to wind down hijab row in Karnataka

The petitioners alleged that the state government was invoking the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 to deny education to certain sections of society. To this the top court responded that the state was not denying any right, but was merely asking students to come wearing an uniform that has been prescribe for all students.

The bench also refused to buy the counsel’s comparison of ‘chunni’ or ‘dupatta’ with hijab, stating that there are a lot of differences between the two.

“If you are depicting a chunni as a hijab, you are probably not right. Chunni is used to cover the shoulders,” Justice Gupta said.

When Hedge argued that women use chunni to cover their heads as a mark of respect for elders, Justice Gupta refused to agree stating that this wasn’t the case in Punjab.

“Sikh women use it to cover their heads when going to gurudwara to pay obeisance. Nothing more than that,” he said.

The court also asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj to explain how the discipline in a school is disrupted if a girl wears hijab, after the latter said that the issue mostly pertains to discipline in educational institutions. To this, Nataraj said, “Somebody in the guise of his religious practice or religious right cannot say that I am entitled to do this therefore I want to violate the discipline of the school.”

Also read: Religious groups assert identity as hijab row turns communal

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan who also appeared for the petitioners said a constitution bench needs to look into the issue as the matter also involves constitutional issues like whether wearing the hijab was an essential religious practice.

Stating that the question could be modulated, Justice Gupta said, “It may or may not be an essential practice. But in a government institution, can you insist on religious practices? The Premable to our Constitution says secular country.”

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