Students of Government First Grade College, Kaup who refused to sit for exams without hijab.
Students of Government First Grade College, Kaup who refused to sit for exams without hijab.

Impact of Hijab verdict in private spaces unmappable

Unsurprisingly, they have escalated the matter to the highest court, even while claiming that it should have been resolved, locally, long ago.

We may not have heard the last of the #HijabBan. The Supreme Court will be hearing the appeals against the Karnataka High Court judgment, upholding the state executive’s ban on the hijab or headscarf in schools and pre-university colleges (PUCs), after Holi.

On Tuesday, a three-member Bench of the Karnataka High Court held that the hijab is non-essential to the practice of Islam, and therefore any prescription of uniform that disallows students from wearing hijabs in classrooms is not in violation of fundamental rights. Nor can it be deemed as running contrary, the court ruled, to constitutional rights given to citizens under Articles 14, 15 and 19(1)—equality, non-discrimination and freedom of expression. The latter part is being challenged in the Supreme Court.

The High Court has taken the view that a school dress code that proscribes the hijab, bhagwa or any other religious apparel “can be a step forward in the direction of emancipation, and more particularly, to the access of education”. A school without uniform, as per the ruling, is unimaginable. Furthermore, the judgment sees schools in the same light as courts, war rooms and defence camps—“qualified public spaces” where individual freedoms are curtailed to maintain discipline and decorum. The Udupi girls fighting for their right to wear the hijab in their PUC classrooms are not convinced. Unsurprisingly, they have escalated the matter to the highest court, even while claiming that it should have been resolved, locally, long ago.

Will this ruling act as a deterrent or exclusionary force, acting to discourage Muslim girls from conservative backgrounds from pursuing an education? The true extent and nature of the impact this will have in private spaces is unmappable. What is a known reality is that religious modesty is not always left to the personal discretion of females, especially in public spaces (where it can mark them out for social isolation and bullying).

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The New Indian Express
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