15th March 2022

The Karnataka High Court in its order today has held that wearing of hijab is not essential to the  practice of Islam; that College Development Committees (CDCs) have a right to prescribe a  uniform; and that Muslim girls must comply with whatever uniform is prescribed by their college.  

1. We, the undersigned organizations working for women’s rights and democratic rights, note  that the Supreme Court is already apprised of the issue. We are confident that the Supreme  Court will protect hijab-wearing Muslim girls and women from discrimination and exclusion  in the name of school or college uniforms.  
2. The Karnataka HC judgment recognises that CDCs of colleges have a right to make decisions  regarding uniforms. In Karnataka itself, many colleges have made additions to their rules  specifying that hijabs could be worn along with uniforms. Likewise *we appeal to all CDCs  in Karnataka to allow girls and women to wear hijabs along with uniforms just as Sikh  boys and men can wear turbans, and Hindus can wear bindis, tilaks, threads, sindoor  etc.* 
3. We take  this opportunity to remind the CDCs that not a single college in Karnataka originally had  any rule banning the wearing of hijab; in fact one college rule book actually specified that  students could wear hijabs conforming to the colour of the uniform. So it was not hijab wearing girls who defied the prescribed uniforms. It was Hindu-supremacist groups that  disrupted colleges, forcing them to amend the rules to selectively prohibit hijabs. This was a chance for the Karnataka HC to address bullying in schools and colleges and  both the institutions; but failing to do so, has endangered many people from minority  communities and identities who may look different or be different from the most.

4. *We appeal to the Supreme Court to issue an immediate stay on the Karnataka HC  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 the 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. 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.

*So as to protect hijab-wearing Muslim girls  and women from any further such grievous instances of discrimination, exclusion,  publicly humiliation, and harassment, we appeal to the Supreme Court to lose no time  in issuing a stay on the Karnataka HC order. This was a chance to address bullying in  schools and colleges and both the institutions and courts failed in addressing it thereby endangering many people from minority communities and identities who may look  different or be different from the most.*

 5. The reasoning of the Karnataka HC verdict is misleading and unsatisfactory on many  counts:  
a) The verdict spends most of its time arguing that the wearing of hijab (headscarf) is not an  essential practice in Islam. But it fails to satisfactorily address the main issues: *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?* 
b) 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 “outdoor 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!*  
c) The verdict cites the Indian Young Lawyers Association vs. State of Kerala judgment  (popularly known as the Sabarimala judgment) to assert that the constitutional “right to  freedom of religion” does not protect all religious practices; and that therefore cannot  protect the practice of wearing hijab. *How can the Sabarimala verdict against  prohibition of women’s entry into temples be used to justify prohibiting the entry of  hijab-wearing girls and women into schools or colleges?!*  
d) *The verdict makes the mistake of equating uniforms with “uniformity”*. In India,  school/college uniforms have always accommodated social and religious diversity:  allowing Sikh boys and girls to wear turbans, for instance. So such diversity that  accommodates turbans and hijabs is not at odds with uniforms. Enforced uniformity has  never been a feature of Indian schools and colleges. The verdict mentions the MEC  EDUCATION: KWAZULU-NATAL judgment which held a South African school’s  refusal to allow a Hindu girl to wear a nose stud with her uniform, to be unconstitutional.  It holds that this case cannot apply to the hijab since the nose stud is “ocularly  insignificant”! The ethical and constitutional arguments of a court should not rely on  such subjective biases: which does not see a Hindu girl’s nose stud as disturbing to the  eye but finds a Muslim girl’s headscarf to be so. 
e) The verdict, as we have pointed out, wrongly applies Ambedkar’s concerns about forcible segregation of women, to the voluntary wearing of hijab. It implies that the practice of  hijab itself militates against women, and thus should not be allowed in schools and  colleges. *The 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; and women’s choice to observe certain practices based  on their free will.*

The Sabarimala analogy can make this point clear. Women petitioned  court to be allowed to enter Sabarimala since the prohibition on women’s entry violated  their rights and equality. *The court in striking down the prohibition on women’s entry  in the name of the temple authorities’ “freedom to practice religion”, did not in any  way force women who believed they should not enter Sabarimala, to enter it against  their will in the name of “emancipation”! Likewise, it is abhorrent that hijab wearing girls or women should be barred from entering schools or colleges in the  name of “emancipation”. Emancipation lies in respecting the autonomy of girls and  women, not in forcing practices on them in the name of either religion or  secularism.*  

_We reiterate our solidarity with the hijab-wearing Muslim students fighting for their right to  education, dignity, and autonomy._
*Endorsed by*, 
All India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary.All India Democratic Women’s Association, Mariam Dhawale, Malini Bhattacharya, Adv Kirti Singh and Maimoona Mollah.Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Satnam Kaur, Savita Sharma and Ashima  Roychoudhury.National Federation of Indian Women, Annie Raja and Rushda Siddiqui.Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, Poonam Kaushik, General Secretary. People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Lara Jesani, Kavita Srivastav, Seema Azad and  Shalini Gera.National Alliance of People’s Movements, Arundhuti Dhuru and Meera Sanghamitra.Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, Nisha Biswas.Kaneez Fathima, Civil Rights Activist, HyderabadForum Against Oppression of Women, Ammu, Amrita, Chayanika and Swatija.Feminists in Resistance, Poushali Basak.Bebaak Collective, Hasina Khan. Navsharan Singh, Activist and ResearcherSmita Gupta, Activist , Punjab Women Collective – Kamayani Bali Mahabal and ResearcherFarah Naqvi, Activist and Writer.Vani Subramanian. Activist and Independent filmmaker.Manshi Asher, Independent Activist. Anuradha Banerji, Activist and Independent Researcher