Karnataka High Court confirms hijab ban but students pledge to fight on
by Nirmala Carvalho

The court upheld the state’s dress code that bans headscarves in schools. Islamic associations slam the decision, calling it a violation of Muslims’ freedoms, pledge support for an appeal to the Supreme Court. For Archbishop Menamparampil, “When anyone’s identity or honour is threatened, they go [to] any length to protect it”. So, if we “Remove threats, avoid exaggerations, normalcy will return.”

Karnataka (AsiaNews) – The High Court of Karnataka has rejected a petition against a dress code that would ban wearing the hijab in schools.

Muslim students at the Government PU College for Girls in Udupi, who are behind the court case, immediately announced that their protest would continue and that they would not attend class without their heads covered.

The High Court upheld the state government’s decision to impose a dress code without head covering.

Over the past few months, the hijab has become a flashpoint over the status of India’s Muslim minority. The ruling is thus bound to fuel the controversy ever further in a state government by Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In arguing their decision, the judges wrote: “We are of the considered opinion that wearing the hijab by Muslim women does not come under essential practices under Islam.”

The court held that the state has the power to prescribe a uniform, and that the uniform is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights which the students cannot object to. Hence, there is no reason to overrule the Karnataka’s dress code that doesn’t allow head covering.

The BJP welcomed the court’s decision, but Muslim politicians and organisations across India rejected it.

Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament and chair of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, slammed the ruling, but expressed “hope that [the] petitioners appeal before [the] SC” (Supreme Court) will find support among “other religious groups”.

The “preamble to the constitution says that one has liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship,” he twitted. “I hope this judgement will not be used to legitimise harassment of hijab wearing women [. . .] in banks, hospitals, public transport”.

This atmosphere around an identity marker is so polarised that it worries India’s Christians as well.

“When anyone’s identity or honour is threatened, they go [to] any length to protect it,” said Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, the archbishop emeritus of Guwahati, speaking to AsiaNews.

“At a[ny] given moment, this identity may be symbolised by a dress or food item”; at “another moment, by a language or a cultural norm,” the prelate explained.

“The more serious the threat to a community’s identity or self-respect, the more fiercely its members are likely to defend it.  At another moment they may attach far less importance to that symbol.”

“Exaggerations regarding the hijab have come to prominence today because the religious community to which it belongs feels threatened, marginalised, and not respected.” So, if we “Remove threats, avoid exaggerations, normalcy will return.”