Video Editor: Mohd Irshad
The Karnataka High Court's verdict to uphold the hijab ban in educational institutions of the state has two important elements.
First, the court has ruled that hijab is not a part of essential religious practices of Islam.
Second, that the requirement of uniform is a reasonable restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a).
But beyond the legality of it, there are three crucial issues to consider which were not taken into consideration by the court.
Education of the Hijabi Girls
It is important to remember that this petition was filed by Muslim girls of various colleges across Karnataka who felt the need to approach the court when they were suddenly stopped from entering their classrooms because of their hijab in late December.
After the verdict, The Quint spoke to scores of Muslim girls in Karnataka, who talked about how this is forcing them to consider dropping out of their colleges. Earlier, Karnataka's Campus Front of India had estimated that a total of 4,291 students had missed classes and examinations from across 79 educational institutions in Karnataka. The outfit had released the estimate based on a survey they conducted after the high court had passed an interim order that upheld the state government's decision to ban hijab on 9 February.
Now that the verdict has been upheld by the high court, education of the hijab-wearing girls is likely to take a bigger toll.
Muslim women have often been at the receiving end of the worst kind of systemic marginalisation due to their Muslim and female identity. This has meant that their enrollment in educational institutions, particularly for higher studies, has historically been low. But in the last decade or so, there had been a significant improvement in the figures of Muslim women’s participation in higher education.
The decade between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the Gross Attendance Ratio (GAR) of Muslim women in higher education in India increased from 6.7 percent to 13.5 percent.
In many cases, it is because of the hijab, not despite of it, that many Muslim women find the freedom and comfort to travel miles to reach their schools and colleges. Such women will be robbed off their education if they are forced to give up their hijab.
Mental and Emotional Toll
Beyond the possibility of tangible impacts on Muslim women’s lives and their education, another aspect of this verdict is the possible impact it may have on many Muslim women, particularly hijab-wearing women’s psyche. Visuals of Muskan, a young hijab wearing girl entering her college as she was heckled and harassed by saffron shawl-wearing boys, went viral last month.
This video, coupled with the other videos of students as well as teachers stopped at the gates of their universities, forced to strip off their hijabs and burqas, was watched by many. These videos have a way of spreading mass fear and paranoia.
Question of Identity
The third important question is that of their identity and priorities.
If these women are to now choose to go back to their classrooms, will it mean that they will have to give up their hijab, in order to access their education? The arguments put forth by the petitioners were that the freedom of conscience and the right to religious practice are both guaranteed in the constitution, and that they were being arbitrarily singled out merely for belonging to the Muslim community. In an interview to The Quint right at the onset of this controversy, the Muslim girls had talked about how devastating it is for them to have to choose between their identity and their education. “Why can’t we have both?” they had asked.
Now, the Karnataka High Court verdict may have only worsened their conundrum.