“Hijab Not An Essential Religious Practice”: Karnataka Government Reiterates In Court

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The Karnataka government on Monday reiterated that Hijab is not an essential religious practice and said religious instructions should be kept outside the educational institutions. “A practice claimed to be essential must be mandatory and not optional,” the state government told the court through its Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi.

The AG quoted from four previous judgments to argue that issues like dress or food cannot be regarded as part of essential religious practices, and a pragmatic approach should be taken.

On being questioned by the court on the state’s stand on whether hijabs can be permitted in educational institutions, the AG said that the government did not interfere in the matter and has left it up to the states. He referred to the Shirur mutt case and said that the state, unless it is a secular activity, should not get involved in religious practises.

When pressed further, he said that if the institutions are to permit, “we would possibly take a decision as and when the issue arises”.

“This is our stand that Hijab is not an essential religious practice. There was a statement by Dr B R Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly where he said ‘let us keep the religious instructions outside educational institutions’,” Mr Navadgi said.

The full bench comprises Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice J M Khazi and Justice Krishna M Dixit.

According to the AG, only the essential religious practice gets protection under Article 25, which guarantees the citizens to practice the faith of their choice. He also referred to “reforms in the religion” as part of Article 25.

“In this case (Udupi Pre-University College) has taken a stand that we will not allow the wearing of hijab in the institution. So this issue might have to be gone into by the Court…If we had decided the Hijab cannot be worn, it would have been seriously challenged on the ground that state has interfered in a religious matter,” the AG said.

The court referred to the argument that students may be permitted to wear the same colour headdress as permitted in the uniform prescribed by the college. “We want to know the stand of the state? …Suppose if they are wearing dupatta which is part of the uniform, can it be allowed?” the court asked.

The AG repeated his argument that the government gives complete autonomy to institutions to decide uniforms but added that “the stand of the state is…element of introducing religious dress should not be there in uniform”.

On January one, six girl students of a college in Udupi attended a press conference held by Campus Front of India (CFI) in the coastal town protesting against the college authorities denying them entry into the classroom by wearing Hijab.

This was four days after they requested the principal permission to wear Hijabs in classes, which was not allowed. Till then, students used to wear Hijab to the campus and entered the classroom after removing the scarves, the college principal Rudre Gowda had said.

“The institution did not have any rule on Hijab-wearing as such and since no one used to wear it to the classroom in the last 35 years. The students who came with the demand had the backing of outside forces,” Rudre Gowda had said.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has also blamed ‘outsiders’ for the problem and said the issue would be resolved soon.

“The problem is being created by outsiders. The issue would be resolved by the principal, students and the parents. The atmosphere needs to be calmed. I am getting all the information about the happenings in the state,” Mr Bommai told reporters in Bengaluru.

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