“Hecklers’ Veto Cannot Be Allowed”: Students To High Court On Hijab Row

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The right to use hijab or headscarves in educational institutions cannot be blocked citing public order, the Karnataka High Court was told today. Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, who was representing students who challenged the bar on head scarves, said courts have earlier recognised the fact that “hecklers’ veto cannot be allowed”.

He also asked the court to rethink its interim judgment to barring religious attire, saying it amounts to a “suspension of the fundamental rights” — to education and religious freedoms — and allowing it is only a small adjustment.

Since the court issued its order barring hijab in institutions that have no dress code, many students have not been allowed entry to schools and colleges. This is interfering with their right to education, he said, adding that the Education Act has no provision to expel a student for not adhering to uniform.

“If the state says if somebody wears a head scarf it will lead to trouble, therefore we cannot allow it, that is an impermissible argument… The state… has to create a positive environment facilitating enjoyment of rights,” he added.

That a government order had left it to colleges to take a call on the use of hijab depending on “public order” came in question yesterday. Religious freedoms are guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution and can be barred only if violation of “public order” is involved.

The state had contended that “public order” is not an accurate translation of the Kannada word used in the government order. The senior advocate said today countered the argument, saying he has consulted the vernacular version of the Constitution where the words appear nine times, every time to mean public order.

“The state says that the word “savrajanik suvyavasthe” in the government order does not mean “public order”. The official Kannada translation of the Constitution uses this word “sarvajanik suvyavasthe” for “public order”. I am surprised the State made this argument,” he said. “Very categorically ‘sarvajyanik suvyavasthe’ means public order and it cannot have a different meaning. I rest my case there,” he added.

The hearing will resume tomorrow.

The hijab row started in Karnataka’s Udupi last month as some students protested against the bar on it. It drew retaliation from other students who insisted on coming in saffron scarves.

The confrontation spread rapidly through the state. Protests were held and Muslim girls heckled, forcing the state to close schools and colleges temporarily and drawing calls for peace from the court.

As schools re-opened yesterday, social media was flooded with visuals from various schools where the students were forced to remove headscarves before entering campuses. Unwilling to comply, many chose to return home.

The Pre University Colleges from where the controversy had started will be opened from tomorrow along with other colleges after almost a week of closure.

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