New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that it will consider listing for hearing a bunch of petitions against the Karnataka high court’s verdict that held the wearing of hijab by Muslim women was not an essential religious practice.
“I will list. Wait for two days,” Chief Justice of India NV Ramana told senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who represents one of the petitioners in the appeals filed last month.
In March, the Chief Justice declined to put a date to hearing these cases on two separate occasions when lawyers for the petitioners urged for an urgent hearing of their appeals challenging the high court’s March 15 verdict.
On March 16, he refrained from indicating any date of hearing after senior counsels Sanjay Hegde and Devadatt Kamat implored the court to urgently list the matter. Hegde appeared for girl student Niba Naaz, while Kamat represented another student, Aishat Shifa.
Again, on March 24, justice Ramana declined to assign a date of hearing, observing that cases pertaining to the ban on hijab have nothing to do with school examinations and the matter should not be sensationalized.
On that day, solicitor general Tushar Mehta intervened on behalf of the Karnataka government and opposed urgent listing of the petitions.
On March 15, a full bench of the Karnataka high court declared that wearing the headscarves was not mandatory in Islam. It upheld the ban on hijab by the state government in schools and colleges through a February 5 executive order, which led to widespread protests.
The high court’s three-judge bench, headed by chief justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, held that the Quran does not mandate wearing of hijab for Muslim women and that the attire “at the most is a means to gain access to public places” and a “measure of social security”, but “not a religious end in itself”.
The court also favoured a “speedy and effective” investigation into the stoking of the hijab controversy in Karnataka, suspecting some “unseen hands at work to engineer social unrest and disharmony in the state”.
Dismissing a bunch of petitions filed by some girl students pressing wearing of hijab as their religious right protected under the Constitution, the court upheld the state government’s authority to prescribe uniform in educational institutions under the Karnataka Education Act, saying that “adherence to dress code is a mandatory for students”.
Hours later, Niba Naaz filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, arguing that the high court had erred in creating a dichotomy between the freedoms of religion and conscience, and had inferred that those who follow a religion cannot have the right to conscience.
“The Hon’ble High Court has failed to note that the right to wear a hijab comes under the ambit of ‘expression’ and is thus protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is submitted that clothing and appearance fall within the ambit of the right of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the petition argued.
Aishat Shifa, another petitioner before the high court, also filed an appeal in the Supreme Court a day after the March 15 judgment. The petition by students of PU College in Udupi – epicentre of the protests seeking to wear the hijab – was mentioned by Kamat for an urgent hearing on March 16 when the court said it would look into the plea, but did not set down the cases for hearing.