A single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday, 9 February, referred the petitions filed by Muslim students over their right to wear hijabs in classrooms to the chief justice of the court for consideration by a 3-judge bench.
The 3-judge bench of the HC, comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S Dixit, and Justice JM Khazi, will hear the matter at 2:30 pm tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Education Minister BC Nagesh said the government notification regarding the dress code will continue to be in effect in absence of an interim court order.
"Since the court has not passed any order to provide interim relief to the students, the government notification will continue to remain in effect," the minister said.
"Uniform is compulsory for students to attend classes," he added.
What Happened in the HC?
Justice Krishna S Dixit had been hearing the petitions, which had challenged the Karnataka government's order saying uniforms were compulsory and students shouldn't wear clothes that "disturb public law and order," on his own until now.
After hearing the arguments by senior advocate Devdutt Kamat for the original petitioners on Tuesday, he was expected to hear arguments by the Advocate General for the Karnataka government on Wednesday, opposing the petitions.
However, he felt that the issues would have to be looked at by a bench of more judges, given the concerns of law involved in the matter, and the need to consider the validity of prior decisions on similar matters by the Kerala and Madras High Courts.
The judge also observed that he could not pass any orders for interim relief at this time, for instance, to allow all students to attend courses until the larger bench makes a decision.
"Even interim prayers merit consideration at the hands of a larger bench that may be constituted by the Chief Justice in his discretion," he held, although he did include a note of urgency to the court registry for the larger bench to be constituted in the order.
Senior advocates representing the Muslim girls, including Devdutt Kamat and Sanjay Hegde, had requested the judge to pass an interim order allowing all students to enter their colleges as exams were scheduled to take place after two months, and so that their right to education was not jeopardised, while the court looked into the issues.
The Advocate General and senior advocate Sajjan Poovayya, representing the college development committee of the Udupi colleges, which first banned the entry of girls wearing hijabs, opposed any grant of interim relief, saying this would jeopardise the main issue.
Justice Dixit had on Tuesday requested the student community and the public to maintain peace and tranquillity and asked the public to have faith in the Constitution. A request was made to him on Wednesday to also urge politicians to refrain from fanning the flames.
A number of disruptions were reported on Tuesday at colleges in the state, including stone-pelting, hoisting of saffron flags, and heckling of Muslim girl students by male students wearing saffron scarves.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Revenue Minister R Ashoka said on Wednesday that the government was not in favour of either "Hijab or Kesari" and blamed the Congress party for all the commotion related to the matter.
"Students can wear whatever they want on streets, but dress code is compulsory in schools. We closed schools and colleges as a precautionary measure for students' safety. Congress is behind this politics," he was quoted as saying by ANI.
'Govt Will Not Spare Any Miscreant': State Education Minister BC Nagesh
The students have sought the court's directions to the government and the education department not to interfere with their religious and fundamental rights. The students have also explained in their petition that they wear the hijab along with their school uniform.
On Tuesday, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai ordered the closure of all high schools and colleges for the next three days in the state.
Meanwhile, BC Nagesh, the Karnataka Primary and Secondary education minister, on Wednesday said: "No one can take law and order into their hands. Government will not spare any miscreant."
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said that the government would take appropriate action wherever "unpleasant things have happened".
"Police has registered cases. We have arrested a few people. They are outsiders, not students. After inquiry, we will let you know," he was quoted as saying by ANI.
Stone-pelting was reported on Tuesday as a group of students wearing saffron scarves staged a protest against hijabs at a college in Shimoga. The saffron flag was also hoisted on the campus. Police was later deployed at the spot.
A commotion also erupted at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial (MGM) College in Udupi on Tuesday after a mob of male students, donning saffron scarves and headgear, protested against wearing hijab on campus.
Meanwhile, Section 144 was imposed in Harihara and Davangere.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Member of Parliament (MP) Elamaram Kareem wrote to Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan for his urgent intervention in the matter.
"The students have been wearing hijab along with the uniform for so many years. In some educational institutions, the colour of the headscarf is also prescribed for the students to follow uniformly in the dress code. In other words, for decades, there was no controversy," he wrote in the letter.
"This is being deliberately manufactured to cause division and arouse communal sentiments," he added.
The issue has been ongoing since 28 December 2021, when the Kundapur Pre-University College in Udupi had prohibited six girls wearing hijabs from attending classes.