NEW DELHI: An Indian court on Tuesday upheld a ban on the hijab in classrooms in the state of Karnataka, a ruling that could set a precedent for the rest of the country which has a big Muslim minority.
Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the High Court of Karnataka said in the judgment, “We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice.”
The ban last month by the southern state sparked protests by Muslim students and parents, and counter-protests by Hindu students. The dispute has led to criticism that Muslims in the country are being further marginalised.
He said the government had the power to prescribe uniform guidelines, dismissing various petitions challenging the order.
Ahead of the verdict, Karnataka authorities announced closures of schools and colleges and imposed restrictions on public gatherings in some parts of the state to prevent potential trouble.
Last month, Federal Home Minister Amit Shah said he preferred students sticking to school uniforms instead of any religious attire.
Students who had challenged the ban in court had said wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under India’s constitution and essential practice of Islam. Reuters could not immediately contact the challengers.
Karnataka’s ban had led to protests in some other parts of the country too and drew criticism from the United States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Earlier this year, three Muslim students in India were barred from entering the classroom after they went to college wearing headscarves.
“When we arrived at the door of the classroom, the teacher said we cannot enter with the hijab,” one of the students told Arab media.
A government-run women’s college in Udupi district of India’s Karnataka state in the south has forced a group of six Muslim students to sit outside the classroom because the college administration alleges, they are “defying the rules” since hijab is not part of the uniform.
The girls told Al Jazeera the hijab is “part of their faith” and wearing it is “their right guaranteed under the law”.
The college administration has done their best to pressurise them but the girls have maintained a defiant stance.
Since December 31, the hijabi girls are being marked absent from their classes even after attending college daily.
“We are not going to budge, no way,” Aliya Assadi, who is a part of the group, said.
A photo has gone viral on social media of the students clad in hijab and college dresses sitting on the steps outside their classroom.
“It is because of this photo that our issue got highlighted in the media,” said Assadi.