What is Hijab Controversy and Rights Related to it?

Hijab Karnataka High Court Law Insider

By Paromita Maitra

Published on: 29 July, 2022 at 18:22 IST


The debate over the religious right to wear a Hijab (headscarf) in school and colleges while attending classes is now headed to the Supreme Court. The Karnataka High Court has settled the debate in favor of the state government and educational institutions that prohibited hijab in classrooms.

There were four fundamental questions that the Karnataka High Court examined while deciding the hijab row case on Tuesday. The hijab is not an important religious practice, according to the Karnataka High Court, which upheld a ban on hijabs in classrooms weeks after violent protests against the restriction in several parts of the state.

Hijab is worn by the Muslim women and it is seen as the symbol of modesty and privacy in Islam. The modern English Dictionaries confined the meaning of the word “Hijab” only to mean the covering of head and neck by the Muslim women, but the Islamic scriptures provides wider meaning to the word “hijab.”

Almost all the major school of Islam defined the word “hijab” as the complete covering of everything except the face and hands. The Quran covers every aspect of life and guides all the individuals professing Islam. The concept of veil/covering has also been widely enumerated in the Quran.

The Islamic jurisprudence recognized two important sources of Islamic law; firstly, the Quran and secondly, the Sunnah or Hadiths i.e., the laws taken from the lifestyle and teachings of Prophet Mohammad. The Quran in different verses prescribed the dress code for the women professing Islam.

Niba Naaz, a student who was not one of the five students who first petitioned against the hijab ban, has appealed the order at the Supreme Court.

The court was of the considered judgement that wearing of hijab by Muslim women doesn’t somehow form a component of important religious practice in Islamic faith, the Karnataka High Court stated in rejecting to overturn the state government’s prohibition and dismissing the students’ petitions.

The Karnataka government issued a directive on February 5 preventing clothing from schools and universities that “Disturb equality, integrity, and public order.” The High Court upheld the decision, saying that wearing a school uniform is a legitimate restriction to which pupils cannot object.

As the ruling, schools had proper grounds to start dress standards prohibiting the hijab in the purpose of preventing religious and other divisions, the judgment said. The regulation’s main motive is to make a ‘Safe space,’ and egalitarian ideas should be abundantly obvious to all pupils, it stated.

The right to practice any religion is guaranteed by the constitution. We’re shocked since we had high expectations. We will not attend college unless we wear the hijab The girls assured reporters that they would appeal the decision.

The students stated that wearing the hijab is a basic right granted by India’s constitution, as well as an important practice. The government had banned huge gatherings in towns like Bengaluru, Mangaluru, and Shivamogga for a week, anticipating tension. In Udupi, where the rallies started in December, schools and institutions are closed today.

The Karnataka High Court had earlier temporarily banned religious clothes, including Hijab and saffron scarves, last month as the controversy snowballed into protests and a face-off between different sections of students.

The massive hijab controversy erupted when students at a school in Udupi alleged that for the first time in years, they had been banned from entering class in headscarves. As the restrictions spread to more campuses, an escalation saw saffron-wearing students launching rival protests.

The state’s ruling BJP has denied accusations of targeting Muslim students and trying to drive a wedge between communities. Party leaders said no religious symbols should be allowed in places of study.


The main issue before the Karnataka High Court was about whether wearing a headscarf is a necessary aspect of Islamic religious practice. Also, is wearing a hijab as a religious practice permitted by Article 25 of the Constitution?

Article 25 ensures a person’s right to religious freedom, including the freedom to profess, practice, and spread her religion. This fundamental right, however, is constrained by public order, morality, and health. This isn’t an unqualified right.

Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justices JM Khazi and Krishna Dixit of the Karnataka High Court decided that wearing a headscarf was not an integral aspect of Islam.

“We are of the considered conclusion that the wearing of the headscarf by Muslim women does not constitute an essential religious practice in the Islamic religion,” the bench ruled.


The second essential issue before the high court was whether school administration prescribing a uniform is legal or if it violates the petitioners’ fundamental rights as guaranteed by Articles 19 and 21.

The right to life requires the school uniform notice to pass the test of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and privacy.

“We are of the considered conclusion that the prescribing of the dress code is just a reasonable legally permitted constraint to which the kids cannot complain,” the Karnataka High Court said.

“The Mughals or the British did not bring uniform, but it had been present since the early days of the gurukul.” According to the court, “Many Indian texts reference Samavastra or Shubhravesh in Sanskrit, the English near counterpart for uniform.”

“If hijab of the same colour is permitted, the school uniform ceases to be uniform.” “There will be two types of female students: those who wear the hijab and those who do not,” the bench stated.


The third crucial topic to investigate was whether the February 5 government decision prohibiting the wearing of hijab on college was ineffective, arbitrary, and imposed “Without application of mind.” If this is the case, it would be a breach of the fundamental rights to equality before the law (Article 14) and protection against religious discrimination (Article 15).

The government of Karnataka has given educational institutions the authority to dictate uniforms.

The judgement given by the court was that the government has power to issue the impugned government order dated 5-2-2022 and no cause is made out for its invalidation, the Karnataka High Court said.

“The government has the authority to issue an order prohibiting the wearing of clothing that could disrupt peace, harmony, or public order, and no case has been shown for its invalidation.”

Simply simply, the supreme court supported the government decree and the government’s authority to issue it.


The high court bench’s final benchmark question was whether the principal, teachers, and panel members liable for prohibiting hijab in classrooms violated the students’ rights by enforcing the school uniform regulation.

The principal and professors of the Government Pre-University College of Karnataka’s Udupi, where the hijab row erupted in December 2021, were in the firing line. If a girl student donned a headscarf, the school authorities barred her access to the classroom.

The Karnataka High Court ordered that the principal and instructors should not be disciplined. According to the high court, mandating a school uniform would make campuses secular.

The court concluded that “There is no basis for initiating disciplinary procedures against the school, its principal, or a teacher for preventing girls from wearing hijab in class.”

“The school regulations imposing a uniform clothing code for all students serve constitutional secularism,” it said.

“Prescription of schools dress code to the excluding of the hijab, bhagwa, or any other religiously significant attire can be a move forward in the direction of freedom and, more specifically, access to education,” the bench concluded.

“It goes without saying that this does not take away women’s autonomy or their right to learn because they are free to wear whatever they want outside the classroom.”

The court stated that “Schooling is meaningless without teachers, education, and a uniform.”


After the Udupi college issued instructions for the academic year in July 2021 requiring a uniform dress code, the hijab dispute erupted in Karnataka.

In September, six students filed a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination by academics (which eventually became the main petitioners in the Karnataka High Court).

By December, their grievance had evolved into a demonstration, prompting the district government to intervene. The rebellion had expanded to many other colleges and districts by January. The Karnataka High Court started hearing a slew of petitions in the case in February.


Finally, the hijab has maintained a contentious symbol with varying interpretations for various groups of people. The central argument has been whether the hijab represents freedom or oppression for Muslim women.

Because there is scant knowledge regarding the reasons why women wear the hijab, most Western countries are failing to see it in a good light.

While every Muslim woman has her own reasons for wearing a hijab, the most of them are related to their culture and religion, the hijab has remained a contentious subject. Some see it as a form of emancipation, while others see it as oppressive, and this has sparked heated disputes around the world.

As a result, while some Muslim women opt to wear the hijab, the majority of them believe it is an oppressing Muslim culture that should not be required on all Muslim women. To respect the values of freedom and choice, Muslim women should be given the opportunity to choose whether or not to wear the hijab.


4 questions that settled hijab debate in Karnataka High Court


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