Purdah or burkha may not be an essential religious practice but hijab is, petitioner Muslim girls tell HC

Petitioners cite earlier judgments of Kerala and Madras High Courts

February 24, 2022 09:00 pm | Updated February 25, 2022 12:12 am IST - Bengaluru

Purdah or burkha may not be an essential religious practice but headscarf is, it was contended before the High Court of Karnataka on Thursday on behalf of two Muslim girl students from the Government PU College at Kundapur in Udupi district.

“…the Kerala High Court and the Madras High Court, after going through the Islamic verses and scriptures, came to a conclusion that purdah or burkha may not be an essential religious practice but a headscarf is,” argued Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamat, representing the petitioner-girls.

He made these submissions before a three-judge Bench, comprising of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S. Dixit, and Justice Jaibunnisa M. Khazi, while replying to the arguments made on behalf of the State Government that hijab is “not an essential religious practice”.

Pointing out that he had cited two judgments of the Kerala High Court and one judgment of the Madras High Court on a categorical finding that hijab is an essential religious practice though purdah or burkha may not be, Mr. Kamat said that advocates representing the Government and others have neither disputed these three judgments nor cited a single judgment of any court in the country to show that the hijab is not an essential religious practice.

Muslim girls cannot be restrained from wearing hijab in the classroom as there is no law at present in the State imposing restriction, as per the Constitution, to exercise the right of freedom to practice, profess, and propagate religion, Mr. Kamat argued, while terming as illegal the Government Order of February 5, 2022, which had laid down guidelines for prescribing uniforms in schools and per-university colleges.

Mr. Kamat also contended that the right to wear the hijab has been granted in the United Nations Convention on Child Rights to which India is a signatory. He quoted B.R. Ambedkar’s speech after finalising the draft of the Indian Constitution. “We may have a great Constitution but if the people who implement it are bad, it would turn out to be a bad Constitution,” Mr. Kamat quoted. He added that he “dare say that the way the State has implemented this, a good Constitution has been totally frustrated”.

Meanwhile, State Advocate-General Prabhuling K. Navadgi submitted a copy of the first information report, registered based on a complaint filed by a teacher of the Government Pre-University College for Girls in Udupi, on threat received from persons allegedly belonging to the Campus Front of India, and the details of preliminary investigation, before the Bench in a sealed cover.

This was in response to a query posed by the Bench during the hearing on Wednesday as to why the Government had not informed the court about the alleged threats received by the teachers of the college due to row over hijab.

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