3-judge Karnataka HC bench set to hear hijab matter today

Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear, Priyanka said

New Delhi/Bengaluru: A three-judge bench of the Karnataka high court comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S. Dixit and Justice J.M. Khazi will hear the matter pertaining to the right to wear hijab in schools and colleges from Thursday. The matter, that was till now being heard by Justice Dixit, was referred to a larger bench on Wednesday after he felt that this case has given rise to certain “constitutional questions of seminal importance in view of certain aspects of personal law.” Justice Dixit, who was hearing a batch of petitions against state government rule on dress code in classrooms and ban on hijab filed by Muslim students from Udupi district, referred the matter to Chief Justice Awasthi with the view that he may decide on constituting a larger bench to look into it.

"In view of the enormity of questions of importance which were debated, the court is of the considered opinion that the Chief Justice should decide if a larger bench can be constituted in the subject matter," Justice Dixit said, adding the interim prayers should also be placed before the larger bench that may be constituted by Chief Justice Awasthi. By late Wednesday, the Karnataka high court announced the three-judge bench that will hear the matter now.

The Karnataka Cabinet, which met on Wednesday morning before the high court order came in, decided to wait for its verdict before taking any further decision on the matter.

While uneasy calm prevailed in educational institutions in Karnataka on Wednesday after they witnessed tense moments over the row earlier, as the state government had on Tuesday ordered closure of all high schools and colleges in the state for three days, protests took place in other parts of the country.

The hijab controversy has slowly spread all over India with protests taking place in Thane, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Mangalore, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Puducherry, Ukkadam (Coimbatore) and Aligarh demanding that women be allowed to wear hijab in educational institutions as it is their constitutional right.

In Bhopal, girls protested by playing football in hijab (headscarf that doesn't cover the face), while in Bengaluru boys made a human chain to protect protesting hijab-clad girls from any heckling from those opposing it. In Bengaluru, police have enforced a 14-day ban on protests near educational institutions. In Maharashtra, Hindu women joined the Muslim protesters and shouted slogans: "Hijab is our ornament", and "Don't divide people".

“Whether it is a bikini, a ghoonghat, a pair of jeans or a hijab, it is a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear,” said Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi as she lent support to the ongoing protests in Karnataka for the right to wear hijab. It was a clear indication that the matter is no more limited to Karnataka and has assumed larger political importance.

“It's a fundamental right of everyone to choose what to eat and what to wear. BJP and RSS are creating an issue over hijab. Are they frustrated that Muslim girls are going to colleges and making their place in society?” Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik said.

While AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi lauded hijab-wearing Muskan Khan who confronted saffron-scarfed boys in her institution in Madya as they tried to intimidate her, Karnataka Congress chief D.K. Shivakumar said, “The world is looking at Karnataka and Bengaluru. Students from across the world are here... I appeal to my student friends, don't get into the trap of BJP. Your education is important.”

Karnataka home minister Araga Jnanendra and revenue minister R. Ashoka accused the Congress of fuelling the hijab row. "Congress leaders are adding fuel to the fire in connection with the Hijab issue. If they continue to do so in future, people in Karnataka will throw them in the Arabian Sea," Mr Jnanendra said.

With educational institutions, including Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad University, all set to reopen next week onwards after the long Covid-19 break, protests and confrontations will only intensify if the Karnataka high court does not provide a solution soon. Already the issue is expected to become a talking point in the five states that are going for elections.

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