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LiveLaw and Bar&Bench: Supporting Hijab for girls in school, fighting for it legally, while tarnishing Sabarimala

It would certainly appear that LiveLaw and Bar&Bench have a problem of either bad recruiting or slant towards Islamists and Leftists rather categorically and as an editorial policy.

On the 15th of March 2022, The Karnataka High Court pronounced its verdict in the hijab case filed by Muslim girl students. The court, as per its order, stated that the hijab is not an essential practice of Islam, and therefore, all the petitions filed by Muslim girl students seeking permission to wear the hijab in educational institutions stands dismissed.

The global media and Indian liberals almost immediately termed the verdict as a “hijab ban”. There were several individuals who went into a complete breakdown. A case in point is TheWire’s founding editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, who compared the Hijab verdict to Muslims being treated as jews and alleging that India was one step away from pushing Muslims to death camps as the Nazis did in Germany.

Outlandish claims aside, the core of the judgement in the Hijab case was that educational institutions have the right to decide their uniform and since Hijab is not an essential religious practice, schools cannot be enforced to allow it. The court found that wearing of hijab is not an essential religious practice and the prescription of a uniform is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights. The court further stated in the order that no case is made out for invalidating the Government Order of February 5.

While the verdict has its own pros and cons, pro being that the Court stepped in before a ridiculous issue snowballed further and con being the slippery slope that the “essential to religious practice” argument is, one has to take a moment of pause and wonder how the Hijab row became an issue where even the USCIRF tweeted against the verdict. Who were the people involved in making this non-existent issue a relevant rallying point for Islamists and their sympathisers?

It is important to bear in mind that not just PFI, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, another radical Islamist outfit accused of receiving funds from abroad to promote Islam in the country, played an influential role in the Hijab controversy. But apart from the obvious Islamist outfits, there were other players who were actively pushing the Hijab row – not the usual Liberals, but platforms that one least suspects due to the veneer of neutrality.

There are two major legal platforms in India that most people rely on for legal news – LiveLaw and Bar&Bench. On Twitter and elsewhere, these two platforms are looked upon as the go-to destinations for legal developments, verdicts and commentary on the law.

Interestingly, both these platforms are now actively involved in pushing the pro-hijab agenda.

How was LiveLaw involved in pushing the pro-Hijab agenda

LiveLaw on their Twitter profile claim to be the “World’s No. 1 legal news website in terms of traffic and content”. The managing editor of the platform is Manu Sebastian, who is also very active on Twitter.

LiveLaw on Twitter

The platform, which claims to be #1 in the world, has to be cognisant of the stands they take, or, at the very least declare their own bias so the readers know where they come from.

However, that is not the case.

Manu Sebastian, who is the Managing Editor of LiveLaw has been pushing the pro-Hijab agenda rather aggressively from his personal Twitter handle and that stand reflects in the kind of content LiveLaw is publishing as well.

Manu himself penned an article in LiveLaw where he contended that “preconceived notions” had trumped “Judicial reasoning” in the Karnataka hijab order.

In the article, Sebastian was deeply troubled by the fact that the court made a universal declaration in the judgement that Hijab is not an essential practice in Islam. He does not consider the fact that many Islamic countries have themselves banned Hijab. Perhaps Manu wanted the court to consider how ISIS and Taliban practice Islam before delivering their verdict.

He further added that the court did not consider the petitioner’s “indirect discrimination” argument, where the petitioners had argued that the uniform rule is discriminating specifically against Muslim girls. The petitioner had asked why bangles, bindis etc are not banned either. To this, the court had said that the uniform rule is the same for everyone. Sebastian takes umbrage to the “one-line dismissal” of the argument without realising that the argument itself was so asinine that the court did not have to comment further on it. It is indeed true that uniform rules are the same for everyone and there is no discrimination against Muslim students alone.

Interestingly, right after talking about Hindu students, he takes umbrage to the court supporting homogeneity in the classroom instead of diversity. The court in its verdict had said that homogeneous uniform in the classroom supports secularism.

Most of all, Manu Sebastian was upset that the court thought banning Hijab was an “emancipation of Muslim women”. He wrote that the court did not depend on any material to claim that the wearing of the hijab was limiting the rights of Muslim women. He further drags in Sabarimala just to make his point – Defending Islam and deriding Hinduism.

What Manu Sebastian wrote in LiveLaw

In this para, Manu’s agenda shines through as bright as the sun. He forgets to add that it was mostly non-Hindu women who had created a ruckus about Sabarimala while devotee women stood for the practises and against the court’s interference. In the Hijab case, however, it was not about the practice being banned across the board. It was specific to educational institutions which aren’t places of worship like that of Sabarimala but are meant to be secular institutions with autonomy. The court in its verdict has not said that Muslim women cannot wear the Hijab in the mosques. Therefore, for the managing editor to compare a hijab ban in educational institutions that have a uniform to the practice of a religious place shows his nefarious agenda.

LiveLaw, in its coverage, tried to discredit the Karnataka HC verdict and push the Hijab agenda rather aggressively, even apart from this shameful article penned by Sebastian.

Sebastian also endorsed foreign interference in internal matters.

Manu went on to retweet several tweets and articles that peddled the mythical Muslim victimhood as well.

Why was the LiveLaw managing editor bringing in Sabarimala argument while defending regressive Hijab

As mentioned above, Manu Sebastian made a facetious argument trying to connect the Sabarimala issue with the Hijab issue. It is pertinent to note that in 2018, an application was filed in the Supreme Court that argued against the traditions of Sabarimala. It was filed as an intervention application against the review petition filed by Nair Service Society.

The intervention application against the tradition of Sabarimala was filed by one TP Sidhu.

The application filed by TP Sindhu alleges that the NSS’s review petition, which contends that women aged between 10 and 50 should not be allowed inside Sabarimala temple since the presiding deity Lord Ayyappa is a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (perpetual bachelor), is an insult to Ayyappa as well as anti-women.

“The contention that a ten-year-old girl’s presence will affect the celibacy of the ‘Lord Ayyappa’ is a derogatory and offensive remark not only against ‘Lord Ayyappa’ but more so on children of such tender age,” the application said.

TP Sindhu is none other than one of the Directors of LiveLaw.

LiveLaw Directors

With such antecedents, it is no surprise that LiveLaw has been campaigning for a regressive practice like Hijab in Educational Institutions and rallying against the religious practice in one temple.

How was Bar&Bench involved in pushing the pro-Hijab agenda

On the 15th of March, one Anas Tanwir, advocate on record in Supreme Court, tweeted that he, along with others, has filed an SLP against the Karnataka hijab verdict.

One of the people mentioned was one Areeb Uddin. Upon closer examination, his close association with Bar&Bench reveals itself.

Areeb Uddin Ahmad was working with Bar&Bench and reported for them extensively. One has to wonder what an employee with a legal firm was doing filing SLPs to force women to wear Hijab in educational institutions.

Once he was called out for his association with Bar&Bench, Areeb tweeted that his association with the legal portal had ended on the 11th of March 2022.

This update came on the 16th of March, 1 day after he had filed the SLP along with others and after he was called out for it.

While Areeb said that he was no longer a reporter at Bar&Bench and his last date of March 11th, one of the reports by him on the platform was on the 14th of March 2022.

Till March 14th, Areeb was posting legal updates tagging Bar&Bench. This method is followed by reporters who report an incident on Twitter but want to tell readers that they are reporting for a certain platform. One sees several journalists from various newspapers and platforms following t his format on Twitter. It serves as an identification of sorts that the reporter is reporting for a particular platform.

His Twitter account is littered with stories of fake Muslim victimhood and fervent support for women wearing Hijab.

Not just Areeb, there are other reporters from Bar&Bench who have been pushing the pro-Hijab agenda.

Zeb Hassan, a reporter with the Bar&Bench peddled the same agenda. Even though she reports on the law, she misrepresented the case as a “hijab ban” and not about hijab in schools with a uniform.

And expressed sympathy with hijab wearing girls.

Another journalist from Bar&Bench who has been denying Hindu genocide and rallying for women to wear Hijab.

While reporting on the Hijab ban in educational institutions, she has been talking about how justice is being denied.

Retweet by Khan
Retweet by Khan

She has also been busy tarnishing Kashmir Files and denying the Hindu genocide in the 1990s by calling the movie “one sided”.

It would certainly appear that LiveLaw and Bar&Bench have a problem of either bad recruiting or slant towards Islamists and Leftists rather categorically and as an editorial policy.

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Nupur J Sharma
Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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