A counsel for one of the Muslim students, who has challenged the hijab ban in government educational institutions in Karnataka, on Thursday contended before the Supreme Court that Article 25 only protects the innocent bona fide practice of religion — ‘wearing a hijab yes! But, wearing an orange shawl is a belligerent display of religion’.
Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, representing the student, submitted before a bench comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia that Article 25 only protects innocent bona fide practice of religion. He added that wearing a namam, yes! Wearing a hijab yes! Wearing an orange shawl is not a bona fide practice. “The argument of the state is that if I wear hijab, other students will wear orange shawl. Wearing an orange shawl is not a genuine religious belief. It is a belligerent display of religion, that if you wear this, I will wear this…,” said Kamat.
He further added that every religious practice may not be essential, but that does not mean the state can keep restricting it as long as it does not fall foul of public order, morality, and health. Kamat said the question is whether uniformity in public space is a ground to restrict Article 25? Whether a Muslim girl wearing a head scarf is an insult to discipline?
Kamat added that one can wear headgear, kara, as part of his religious belief, it may not be a core religious practice, but as long as it does not affect public order, health or morality, it can be allowed.
The bench queried Kamat that wearing a hijab in street may not offend anyone, however, wearing it in a school might raise a question, what kind of public order school would want to maintain?
The top court will continue to hear the matter after lunch. On Wednesday, Kamat asked the apex court how a secular administration, allowing others to wear bindi, kada, or cross, could restrict Muslim students’ fundamental right to choose to wear hijab, in addition to prescribed uniforms.
The top court is hearing a clutch of petitions against the Karnataka High Court judgment, which upheld the right of educational institutions to ban wearing of hijab in pre-university colleges in the state.