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HomeOpinionsSeparating myth from fact: A simple Q&A on Karnataka High Court and hijab judgement

Separating myth from fact: A simple Q&A on Karnataka High Court and hijab judgement

You have to either accept that Islam does not give the choice to women, or you have to stop saying that the school is legally required to change its uniform for you. You can't have it both ways.

The obvious has happened. The High Court of Karnataka has thrown out all petitions demanding that Muslim girls in Karnataka be allowed to wear the hijab irrespective of their school uniform. Not surprisingly, sections of the media are twisting facts, force-fitting this judgement into their fake narrative against India. After all, there is a lot of money in defaming India right now. And everyone wants a piece of it.

So here is a helpful guide to the facts of the matter, for anyone who has an open mind. The easiest way is to break it down into Q&A format.

Q: Has the High Court banned the hijab in Karnataka?

A: No. Muslim women are completely free to wear hijab in Karnataka, or anywhere else in India. So are people of all religions, whether men or women, allowed to wear religious symbols or clothing as per their choice.

Q: Has the High Court banned the hijab in schools?

A. No. The High Court has merely given schools the right to choose their uniform. And the schools can decide whether to allow the hijab as part of their uniform. In fact, Muslim religious schools are even free to *require* the hijab as part of their uniform!

Q: How can the government or the court tell somebody what to wear? Is this not unconstitutional?

A: Yes, that is why neither the government nor the court told people what to wear. The government and the court merely allowed individual schools to decide their uniform.

Q: But is it not the choice of a girl (or her parents, in case of minors) whether to wear the hijab?

A: Not inside the school, no. Most schools in India have prescribed uniforms. The word “uniform” itself means that the student does not get to choose.

Q: So you admit that the school is taking away choice from the students?

A: Yes. But this is not specific to Muslim students or Muslim girl students in any way. Some school uniforms require navy blue pants. Such schools are also taking away choice from kids who want to wear black pants. If you want to start a larger moral debate over whether schools should have uniforms, go ahead. But this has nothing to do with religion. And surely Muslims have no special right to be exempt from school uniforms.

Q: But Sikhs wear turbans to school and nobody objects. Why not treat hijab the same way?

A. Under Indian law, people can get exemptions for “essential religious practices.” This isn’t just applied to school uniforms. Those wearing Sikh turbans are also exempt from wearing a helmet while driving a two wheeler, for instance. In this case, the High Court held that hijab is not an essential practice of religion.

Q: Okay, so what if I argue that hijab is an essential practice in Islam?

A: You are most welcome to try. But be aware of the duplicity in what you just did. You were just saying that hijab is a choice. Now you are saying it is essential? In fact, this is roughly what the petitioners in the High Court tried to argue. They told the court that hijab is essential in Islam. But all their liberal feminist supporters were saying outside that hijab is a choice. No wonder the court was not fooled by this. On the other hand, Sikhs will tell you the exact same thing in the court as they will tell you on Facebook: the turban is essential to their religion.

Q: But who decides what is an essential practice of some religion?

A: The court decides, after looking at religious texts and letting petitioners make their case. This is exactly what happened in the hijab case as well. Remember how feminists always tell you that Islam gives women the right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab? This is exactly the view that the court took. For some reason, the feminists are still complaining. So you have to either accept that Islam does not give the choice to women, or you have to stop saying that the school is legally required to change its uniform for you. You can’t have it both ways.

Q: It isn’t just Sikh turbans, you know. Students routinely wear all sorts of religious symbols to school.

A. Yes they do. Feel free to start this discussion with the principal of the school your kid is interested in. The school will decide what is their uniform and what they will allow kids to wear.

Q: It seems like a complicated and confusing matter to prove that something is an essential practice of religion. Is the court being vindictive against Muslims?

A. Absolutely not. In fact, it is most often Hindus who suffer because of this essential practice test. Hindus have no single holy book, no central authority to decide what the rules of the religion are. As such, Hindus find it almost impossible to prove this or that is an “essential practice.” That is why courts routinely set rules on smallest aspects of Hindu practice, even how much water a devotee is allowed to pour on a Shivling.

Q: Why is the court getting involved in making decisions based on religious scriptures? I thought we are a secular state.

A. Excellent point. It should not be the job of the courts to interpret religious scriptures. But in India, let alone school uniform, so many big things such as disputes on marriage, divorce, inheritance etc are decided in courts by interpreting various religious texts. It is an absolute mess that makes our so called secularism look irrelevant. Kindly support a uniform civil code. Thanks.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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