Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Tuesday asked students, who have been denied access to their classrooms for choosing to wear hijab, to wait for two days for their appeals to come up in the Supreme Court.
“Please wait for two days... I will list,” Chief Justice Ramana assured senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who made an oral mentioning for early hearing of the case on behalf of the students.
Students have approached the Supeme Court against a Karnataka High Court judgment which had held that wearing hijab was not an essential religious practice in Islam.
One of them, Niba Naaz, represented by advocate Anas Tanwir, countered the High Court’s conclusion by arguing that the “Indian legal system explicitly recognises the wearing/carrying of religious symbols... Motor Vehicles Act exempts turban-wearing Sikhs from wearing a helmet... Sikhs are allowed to carry kirpans into an aircraft”.
She argued that denying Muslim girls like her access to education, and thus, punishing them for wearing hijab to college was a violation of their right to privacy.
“Freedom of conscience form a part of the right to privacy,” her petition said.
Any infringement of her right to privacy should be on the basis of a valid law, for a legitimate state interest and the law must be proportionate. No law prohibited hijab, she said.
Ms. Naaz argued that the High Court judgment had created a “dichotomy of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience”.
“This freedom would include the freedom to lawfully express one’s identity in the manner of their liking,” the student contended.
The student said she and several others like her had approached the Karnataka High Court, expecting it to protect her fundamental rights and quash a State government order of February 5 directing college development committees to prescribe uniforms for them.
She termed the State government’s order as a “ridiculing attack” on Muslim students wearing hijab under the “guise of attaining secularity and equality on the basis of uniform”.
She said the State could not prescribe uniforms for students. It was for educational institutions to do so. Moreover, the law did not provide for the formation of “college development committees”. Further, Karnataka Educational Institutions Rules of 1995 did not make it mandatory for a school or institution to prescribe a uniform. In their case, no uniform had been prescribed by their respective institutions.
Ms. Naaz said the law did not require a student to be punished for not wearing a particular uniform. The act of denying students like her access to classrooms was illegal.
In February, the Supreme Court had assured the students protection of their constitutional rights and intervention at an “appropriate time”.