Karnataka HC: All students, regardless of religion or faith, are restrained from wearing “saffron shawls (bhagwa), scarves, hijabs, religious flags within classrooms”, a full bench of the Karnataka high court has ruled in an interim order that it said is applicable only to those institutions that have prescribed a dress code or uniform.

Orders passed on Thursday were released on Friday. As the court takes up the matter and issues of constitutional significance and personal law are being debated, the bench of CJ Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S Dixit, and Justice JM Khazi expressed its pain over the agitations and closures of educational institutions.

The order is limited to those colleges where college development committees (CDCs) have prescribed a student dress code/uniform,” the bench said. Adjourning the hearing to Monday, the bench asked the state government and all stakeholders to reopen educational institutions and allow students to return to classes.

“Ours is a country of plural cultures, religions and languages,” the bench said. “Being a secular state, it does not identify itself with any religion as its own. Every citizen has the right to profess and practise any faith of choice. However, such a right, not being absolute, is susceptible to reasonable restrictions as provided by the Constitution. Whether wearing of hijab in the classroom is a part of essential religious practice of Islam in the light of constitutional guarantees needs deeper examination,” it said.

According to the court, in civilised societies like India it is unlawful to disrupt public peace and tranquility in the name of religion, culture, or the like.

“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. Prolonging 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 classes than by the continuation of agitations and consequent closure of institutions,” the bench observed.

Sanjay Hegde, the senior advocate who represented the petitioner-students from a college in Udupi argued that all stakeholders should show tolerance so that students professing and following the Islamic faith can attend classes wearing the hijab and that institutions should not demand that students remove the hijab in order to enter classrooms.


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