Hijab row | Supreme Court issues notice to Karnataka Government over plea challenging HC’s order

The row over wearing hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka has brought back into focus a case on the “scope and ambit” of religious freedom

Updated - August 29, 2022 05:08 pm IST

Published - August 29, 2022 11:55 am IST - NEW DELHI:

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court fixed the hearing of arguments on September 5 in a batch of petitions challenging a Karnataka High Court decision upholding a State Government order banning the wearing of hijab to classrooms while criticising the petitioner-students of “forum-shopping” for seeking an adjournment.

A Bench led by Justice Hemant Gupta issued notice on a plea to stay the High Court Order. Karnataka, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, accepted the notice and said no counter is required to be filed. The State said it is ready to argue the case on law on Monday.

Watch | Karnataka’s hijab controversy explained

The petitioners sought an adjournment saying the case was listed "suddenly" and lawyers had to travel to the apex court from across the country.

"This kind of forum-shopping we will not permit… Time and again you have sought early listing. Now when the case is listed, you want an adjournment. Travelling from Karnataka will only take two-and-a-half hours… We will take up this case on Monday itself," Justice Gupta said.

The case was repeatedly mentioned for early listing in April, May and July in the past by the petitioners.

"At that point of time, the exams were due… so we had mentioned it… the counsel need to prepare their briefs," one of the petitioners said.

"So, you were not prepared when you had mentioned the case? Mentioning for early hearing meant the lawyers were prepared," Mr. Mehta shot back.

The row over wearing hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka has brought back into focus a case on the “scope and ambit” of religious freedom.

Fathima Bushra, a student of Government P.U. College in Karnataka represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, had challenged her “debarment” from attending regular classes for wearing hijab.

She has argued that her petition raised urgent questions about “essential” religious practices of Muslims, who constitute 18% of the population.

She has said the row over hijab should not be seen by the court as a solitary incident but “the latest in a long line of events that have threatened the secular fabric of our society and polity, a number of which are sub-judice before the Supreme Court and other courts in the country”.

Also Read: Explained | What is the essential practice test?

“These events include the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019… violence and riots targeting those protesting against the Act, virulent protests against Muslims, who on account of lack of adequate mosques in Gurugram, were offering prayers in open areas duly demarcated by the government/authorities for this purpose, cow vigilantism, laws effectively prohibiting religious conversion, and blatant calls for economic boycott and even genocide against the Muslims of the country in events self-styled as ‘Dharam Sansads’,” Ms. Bushra said in her petition.

Ms. Bushra has asked why “something as innocuous as wearing of a hijab by a Muslim girl student has been turned into a communal issue of such magnitude that the State government had to shut down schools and colleges across the State of Karnataka till the weekend”.

She has challenged the Karnataka government’s Order directing students to wear the uniforms prescribed by their educational institutions.

“A Muslim girl pursuing her education wearing a hijab/headscarf offends no right of any person and militates against no State interest… Petitioner does not wear the hijab as a form of any political symbolism or to intimidate, heckle or belittle her fellow classmates or any other person,” she has argued, saying restrictions were “bound to have an impact on the rights of Muslim women across the country.

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