Hijab row: Argument continues in HC; Udupi remains peaceful

The district administration had imposed prohibitory orders Section 144 CrPC within 200 meters radius of all colleges

New Delhi: As the arguments continued in the Karnataka high court hearing over the wearing of the hijab in classrooms, the undergraduate and pre-university colleges reopened in Karnataka on Wednesday. While some students preferred to remove their hijab and attend classes, some other students decided to wait till the high court’s final order and did not come for class.

Taking forward the arguments on allowing hijabs in schools and colleges before the three-judge high court bench, senior advocate and professor Ravivarma Kumar said on Wednesday there is no mandatory uniform prescribed for pre-university colleges in the Karnataka Education Act and in the rules made under it.

He added that neither under the law nor the rules was there any prohibition on wearing the hijab. He also pointed out that the guidelines forbade the college authorities from prescribing uniforms and warned that principals will face disciplinary action if they imposed uniforms. He added that the rules say when an educational institution intends to change uniforms, it has to issue a one-year notice in advance to parents. Hence, if the ban on the hijab has to be imposed, then there should be a one-year advance notice for that.

At this point, Justice Krishna S. Dixit asked whether if something is not prohibited in the rules explicitly, does that mean that it is permitted. “If that view is taken, somebody may say there is no licence required to carry arms in the classroom as there is no prohibition. I am logically analysing what your proposition can take us to… There is no prohibition on carrying a kirpan if it is not proscribed. However, the power to proscribe under Rule 9 is there. That needs to be independently argued,” the judge asked.

To this, Mr Kumar responded: “I am not expanding the proposition that I have made. I am only saying there is no prohibition against the hijab. The question that comes then is under what authority or rules I have been kept out of the class.”
He argued that there are several religious symbols used by all sections of society, so why was only the hijab being singled out for discrimination. While referring to a research paper based on a survey done on religious clothes and symbols, he argued: “Many Indians display religion through their attire. Half of the Hindus and Muslims, and a majority of Christians say they generally wear a religious pendant. Most Sikh men keep long hair. I am only showing the vast diversity of religious symbols in all sections of society… Bangles are worn. Are they not religious symbols? Why are you picking on these poor Muslim girls? Why is the government picking on the hijab alone and making this hostile discrimination?”

“If people wearing the turban can serve in the Army, why not a person sporting a religious symbol be allowed to attend classes? Judicial note must be taken that Muslim girls are the least represented in classrooms. If they are shut out on the pretext of religion, it will be very draconian… The goal of education is to promote plurality, not to promote uniformity or homogeneity, but heterogeneity. A classroom should be a place for recognition and reflection of diversity,” he said.
Taking the arguments further, senior advocate Yusuf Muchhala said the petitioners in the case were facing a “Hobson’s choice”, and were being asked to choose between their faith and education, which was a violation of their fundamental rights. He added: “The purpose of the Education Act is to promote harmony and not to create dissent among students.”

There was, meanwhile, a mixed response at Udupi in Karnataka, where the hijab controversy had erupted last month. At Government Women’s College in Udupi, where the hijab row first started, six students did not come for class. At Kundapur PU College too, the girls who were fighting for their right to wear the hijab protested outside the gate and did not attend classes. At G Shankar First Grade College in Udupi town, those girls who wanted to attend class removed their hijabs, while the others went home.

“Our principal called us to his room and told us about the high court order. He was very polite. We can understand his situation and told him that as we want the hijab, we will not attend the class. He assured us of online classes. In this way, we will not miss any class. We are lucky to be in this institution,” one of the girls told reporters.

“The principal has allowed us entry into the campus. He told us that we can go to the library and canteen as well. The restriction is only to enter the class,” she added.

However, classes did not resume at MGM College, where the students had protested with hijabs and saffron shawls last week. The college is holding online classes for both PU and degree students.

The district administration had imposed prohibitory orders Section 144 CrPC within 200 meters radius of all colleges. Security was also beefed up with additional police forces near every educational institution. The situation was peaceful, and there were no untoward incidents.

In Mangaluru, in a few institutions, some girls preferred to go home and the others attended classes after removing their hijabs.

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