“Hijab Girls on Trial,” says Former SC Judge

By Sonal Nain, 16 Mar 2022

The Karnataka High Court upheld the state government’s decision to prohibit hijab wear in educational institutions. The three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S Dixit and Justice JM Khazi, ruled that “Hijab is not an essential practise of Islam.” The panel stated that institutional discipline would take precedence over individual choices and held that the prescription of school uniforms by the State is a reasonable restriction. 

The High Court judgment has elicited reactions from all voices on the spectrum. It has also resulted in many young girls boycotting their classes, particularly since Section 144 was implemented in Bangalore and other areas of Karnataka. These girls are now looking to the Supreme Court to change the course of their future. “We feel betrayed by the HC judgment,” say the girls who petitioned. 

Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde, who is fighting for the rights of women to wear a hijab, said to Mojo Story that a special leave petition has been filed in the Supreme Court against the Hijab verdict, “There are several rights at stake. Apart from the argument of the doctrine of essential religious practices, there is also a right to conscience, and if people in good conscience believe that it is a religious obligation to do something, then that position should be accommodated by an administrator. HC made a mistake by dividing the right to religion from the right to conscience.”

According to Justice Deepak Gupta, the court is stepping on very risky terrain and should avoid interpreting religion because it is very personal, “It is dangerous for judges to decide what religious practices are permissible. There may be beliefs that are not essential to religion but are associated with it, for example, Hijab is associated with Islam, and Om is associated with Hinduism.” He argues that the choice to wear a hijab may not be religious but it does fit within the umbrella of freedom of expression and social practices. 

He further stated that the judge treats the girls as if they are on trial, saying, “Cannot put perpetrators on a pedestal and make victims face trial.”

Justice Gupta believes that the right to an education should have been prioritized and that if we educate young girls, they may eventually abandon the hijab, but for the time being, it is a part of their identity. “If you believe that wearing a headscarf is a symbol of gender bias, oppression, and unfairness,” he questioned,  then why punish girls even more by denying them the greatest emancipation that education provides?”