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A Supreme Court judge hearing the case about hijabs in educational institutes in Karnataka on Thursday remarked that the wearing of the garment could not be compared with Sikh religious practices, Live Law reported.
Justice Hemant Gupta remarked that Sikh practices were “well-engrained in the culture of the country” and could not be compared with the practice of wearing the hijab.
“The comparison with Sikhs may not be proper,” Justice Gupta said. “The 5 Ks of [Sikhism] have been held to be mandatory. There are judgements. Carrying of Kirpan is recognised by the Constitution. So don’t compare practices.”
In response, Nizam Pasha, the lawyer appearing for some of the petitioners, remarked that Islam has been in India for the past 1,400 years and the hijab has also been present.
The Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging a Karnataka High Court order that had, in March, upheld the state government’s ban on wearing hijab in educational institutions.
Earlier in the hearing, Pasha had referred to portions of the High Court order that said that the wearing of the hijab was at best a cultural practice. In this backdrop, he told the Supreme Court that even if it was a cultural practice, it was a protected one, similar to the wearing of a turban by Sikhs.
Meanwhile, senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, appearing for another petitioner, noted that the Karnataka government had said that if students came to educational institutes wearing headscarves, other persons would get offended, PTI reported. He told the court that this could not be the reason for banning the garment.
Kamat said that freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution can only be restricted on the grounds of public order, morality or health. He argued that every religious practice is not essential to faith, but that does not imply that the government can keep imposing restrictions on such a practice.
“As long as I do not violate public order, I do not fall foul of morality and I do not affect the health of others, I am entitled,” he added.
Kamat asked the bench as to whose fundamental right his client was violating by wearing a headscarf, according to PTI. However, the court said: “The question is what kind of fundamental right do you have which you want to exercise?”
The case will be heard further on September 12.
A controversy had erupted after, in December and January, a group of Muslim students of the Government Women’s Pre-University College in Udupi city were not allowed to attend classes for being dressed in hijab. The students staged a protest, and similar demonstrations were held in other parts of Karnataka.
On February 5, the Karnataka government passed an order banning clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. The students then moved the High Court against the ban.
Days after the High Court upheld the ban, a group of students had moved the Supreme Court contending that they would miss their exams due to the ban. However, then Chief Justice NV Ramana had refused an urgent hearing in March, saying that the hijab ban had nothing to do with exams.