The Karnataka High Court has held that the Students should not wear hijab, Bhagwa or any religious flags while attending classes in Karnataka colleges until case is decided.
All these writ petitions essentially seek to lay a challenge to the insistence of certain educational institutions that no girl student shall wear the hijab (headscarf) whilst in the classrooms.
Some of these petitions call in question the Government Order dated 05.02.2022 issued under sections 7 & 133 of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983.
This order directs the College Development Committees all over the State to prescribe ‘Student Uniform’, presumably in terms of Rule 11 of Karnataka Educational Institutions (Classification, Regulation & Prescription of Curricula, etc.) Rules, 1995.
A Single Judge (Krishna S Dixit J) vide order dated 09.02.2022 i.e., yesterday, has referred these cases to Hon’ble the Chief Justice to consider if these matters can be heard by a Larger Bench ‘regard being had to enormous public importance of the questions involved’.
Accordingly, the Special Bench comprising of three Judges has immediately been constituted and these cases are taken up for consideration.
Mr. Sanjay Hegde, learned Sr. Adv. argues that the 1983 Act does not have any provision which enables the educational institutions to prescribe any uniform for the students. The 1995 Rules apart from being incompetent are not applicable to Pre-University institutions since they are promulgated basically for Primary & Secondary schools.
These Rules do not provide for the imposition of any penalty for violation of the dress code if prescribed by the institutions. Even otherwise the expulsion of the students for violating the dress code would be grossly disproportionate to the alleged infraction of the dress code. All stakeholders should make endeavours to create an atmosphere of peace & tranquillity so that the students go back to the schools and pursue their studies. Nobody should pollute the congenial atmosphere required for pursuing education.
All stakeholders should show tolerance & catholicity so that the girl students professing & practising Islamic faith can attend the classes with hijab and the institutions should not insist upon the removal of hijab as a condition for gaining entry to the classrooms.
Sr. Advocate Mr. Devadatt Kamat basically assailed the subject Government Order contending that the decisions of Kerala, Madras & Bombay High Courts on which it has been structured have been wrongly construed by the Govt. as hijab being not a part of essential religious practice of Islamic faith and that there is a gross non-application of mind attributable to the Government. He also submits that the State Government has no authority or competence to issue the impugned order mandating the College Development Committees to prescribe student uniform. He submits that dress & attire are a part of speech & expression; right to wear hijab is a matter of privacy of the citizens and that institutions cannot compel them to remove the same.
In response, learned Advocate General shortly contends that no prima facie case is made out for the grant of any interim relief. The impugned order per se does not prescribe any uniform since what uniform should be prescribed by the institutions is left to them.
The agitation should come to an end immediately and peace & tranquility should be restored in the society; there is no difficulty for the reopening of the institutions that are closed for a few days in view of disturbances and untoward incidents. The agitating students should go back to school. He denies the submissions made on behalf of petitioners.
The Advocate General also brought to the notice of the Court that there are several counter agitations involving students who want to gain entry to the institutions with saffron and blue shawls and other such symbolic clothes and religious flags. Consequently, the Government has clamped prohibitory orders within the radius of 200 metres of the educational institutions.
The three judge bench consisting of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justices Krishna S Dixit and JM Khazi stated, “we are pained by the ongoing agitations and closure of educational institutions since the past few days, especially when this Court is seized off this matter and important issues of constitutional significance and of personal law are being seriously debated.”
It hardly needs to be mentioned that ours is a country of plural cultures, religions & languages. Being a secular State, it does not identify itself with any religion as its own. Every citizen has the right to profess & practise any faith of choice, is true.
However, such a right not being absolute is susceptible to reasonable restrictions as provided by the Constitution of India. Whether wearing of hijab in the classroom is a part of essential religious practice of Islam in the light of constitutional guarantees, needs a deeper examination.
Ours being a civilised society, no person in the name of religion, culture or the like can be permitted to do any act that disturbs public peace & tranquillity. Endless agitations and closure of educational institutions indefinitely are not happy things to happen. The hearing of these matters on an urgent basis is continuing.
Elongation of academic terms would be detrimental to the educational career of students especially when the timelines for admission to higher studies/courses are mandatory. The interest of students would be better served by their returning to the classes than by the continuation of agitations and consequent closure of institutions. The academic year is coming to an end shortly.
“We hope and trust that all stakeholders and the public at large shall maintain peace & tranquillity,” the court added.
“We request the State Government and all other stakeholders to reopen the educational institutions and allow the students to return to the classes at the earliest. Pending consideration of all these petitions, we restrain all the students regardless of their religion or faith from wearing saffron shawls (Bhagwa), scarfs, hijab, religious flags or the like within the classroom, until further orders,” the court while clarifying that this order is confined to such of the institutions wherein the College Development Committees have prescribed the student dress code/uniform said.
Case title: Smt Resham and Anr. v/s State of Karnataka and Ors.
Citation: WP NO. 2347/2022