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India court upholds state’s ban on hijab in class

The ban last month by the southern state sparked protests by some Muslim students and parents, and counter-protests by Hindu students.

Reuters
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Children queue up to enter the school premises after schools resumed physical classes in Kolkata on Feb 3. Photo: AFP
Children queue up to enter the school premises after schools resumed physical classes in Kolkata on Feb 3. Photo: AFP

An Indian court on Tuesday upheld a ban on the hijab in class in the state of Karnataka, a ruling that could set a precedent for the rest of the country which has a big Muslim minority.

The ban last month by the southern state sparked protests by some Muslim students and parents, and counter-protests by Hindu students. The dispute has led to criticism that Muslims in the country are being further marginalised.

“We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice,” Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the High Court of Karnataka said in the judgement.

He said the government had the power to prescribe uniform guidelines, dismissing various petitions challenging the order.

Ahead of the verdict, Karnataka authorities announced closures of schools and colleges and imposed restrictions on public gatherings in some parts of the state to prevent potential trouble.

Last month, Federal Home Minister Amit Shah said he preferred students sticking to school uniforms instead of any religious attire.

Students who had challenged the ban in court had said wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under India’s constitution and an essential practice of Islam. Reuters could not immediately contact the challengers.

Karnataka’s ban had led to protests in some other parts of the country too and drew criticism from the US and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.