Karnataka HC Had Chance to Address Bullying in Campuses, Ended up Endangering Minority Rights: Womens’ Organisations
Alleging that the Karnataka High Court verdict on the Hijab controversy verdict “fails to understand the very concept of women's autonomy and consent, since it fails to distinguish between forcible imposition of religious practices on women against their will,” a number of progressive womens’ organisations and civil society groups have expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would put a stay on the order.
On March 15, in a detailed judgment, the Karnataka high court’s full bench comprising the Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justices Krishna S. Dixit and J.M. Khazi, held earlier today that the wearing of hijab is not part of the essential religious practice of the Islamic faith under Article 25 of the Constitution. The bench concluded that the Government Order [GO] issued by the Karnataka government this year prescribing school uniforms does not suffer from lack of application of mind, as alleged by the petitioners in this case.
In a joint statement released on the same day, the womens’ organisations appealed to the apex court to immediately issue a stay order. “This order will have a far-reaching negative impact on the safety, dignity, and right to education of Muslim girls and women. We point out that even the interim order of the Karnataka HC had resulted in not only Muslim girl students but even Muslim women teachers being prohibited from entering school/college grounds.”
It continued how “The order became a pretext for publicly humiliating Muslim girls and women by demanding that they strip off their hijabs publicly at school/college gates as a condition for entrance. Hijab-wearing students were forced to miss classes and even exams as a result of the order, and some Muslim women even resigned as teachers in protest at the indignity of being forced to strip off an item of clothing. Also, the Karnataka order encouraged educational authorities all over the country to prohibit entry of hijab-wearing students and teachers into campuses. Further, there were instances of hijab-wearing women being accosted and harassed in other public spaces too - for instance in a bank in Bihar.”
The statement was highly critical of the bench’s use of passages from Dr BR Ambedkar as a justification for the verdict. “The verdict cites a passage from Dr Ambedkar's writings on how ‘compulsory system of purdah’ results in segregation and seclusion of Muslim women, to then argue that wearing of hijab/veil etc may inhibit emancipation, public participation, and access to education for Muslim girls and women. This is a shocking distortion of the thrust and intention of Dr Ambedkar's observations. Dr Ambedkar's remarks are not about any item of clothing. *Dr Ambedkar refers specifically to the compulsory purdah system preventing girls and women from appearing in public outdoors; a form of forced segregation preventing them from accessing education and from ‘utdoor activity’. Dr Ambedkar did not suggest, as the HC order implies, that a Muslim girl or woman voluntarily wearing a headscarf (hijab) be prevented from accessing education and thus forced back into seclusion inside the home or segregation by being forced to study in a separate Muslim school or college!”
Another significant point highlighted by the organisations was how even if the Karnataka HC found merit in the argument that wearing Hijab was not an essential practise under Islam, it failed to satisfactorily answer the pertinent question, “Is it not discriminatory and unconstitutional to selectively force a Muslim girl or woman to lose her access to education in case she wears a hijab?”
The statement was undersigned by All India Progressive Women’s Association, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, National Federation of Indian Women, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, among others.
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