NEW DELHI — An Indian court on Tuesday upheld a ban on wearing the hijab in class in the country’s southern state of Karnataka, saying the Muslim headscarf is not a core religious practice of Islam.
The Karnataka state high court issued the verdict after considering petitions filed by Muslim students challenging the government’s hijab ban that some schools and colleges have implemented over the past two months.
The dispute began in January when a government school in Udupi district, Karnataka, banned students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, sparking protests from Muslims who said they were deprived of their fundamental rights to education and religion. This led to counter-protests by Hindu students wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.
Other schools in the state followed with similar bans, and the state’s highest court banned students from wearing the hijab and any religious attire while awaiting a verdict.
Ahead of the verdict, the Karnataka government banned large gatherings for a week in the state capital, Bengaluru, “to maintain public peace and order”, and declared Tuesday a public holiday in schools and communities. Udupi colleges.
The hijab is worn by many Muslim women to maintain modesty or as a religious symbol, often seen not just as clothing, but as something mandated by their faith.
Restrictions on the hijab have surfaced elsewhere, notably in France, which in 2004 banned them in schools. But in India, where Muslims make up 14% of the country’s 1.4 billion people, the hijab has always been neither banned nor restricted in public spheres. Headscarf-wearing women are common throughout the country, which has religious freedom enshrined in its national charter with the secular state as its cornerstone.
Some rights activists have expressed concern that the ban could increase Islamophobia. Violence and hate speech against Muslims has increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, which also governs the state of Karnataka.