Hijab part of a student’s right to privacy, SC told


NEW DELHI: Arguing against the Karnataka government’s decision to enforce uniforms in a bid to prohibit religion-linked attire, such as hijab, in educational institutions, the Muslim side on Thursday told the Supreme Court that choice of appearance and apparel is part of a female student’s inviolable right to privacy.
In the hearing that spanned two weeks and ended Thursday, 21 advocates argued for the Muslim side challenging the basis, intent, rationale and legality of the state’s February 5 decision, which was upheld by the Karnataka HC, and six in support of enforcing uniform without religious attire.
An SC bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia reserved the verdict on a bunch of 26 pro-hijab pleas. With Gupta set to retire on October 16, the verdict would be out before that date.
Huzefa Ahmadi, arguing for the Muslim side, said Thursday, “Banning hijab has resulted in girls dropping out of schools. If they are prevented from being educated in government institutions, they will be deprived of their fundamental right.”
As the hearing on the ban on hijab in some Karnataka educational institutes came to an end in the Supreme Court on Thursday, Huzefa Ahmadi said, “It was a puerile decision on the part of the state to issue a circular for strict enforcement of uniform by succumbing to a few students who wore saffron shawls to bully hijab-wearing Muslim girls. ”
The Muslim side engaged 21 lawyers, including senior advocates Dushyant Dave, Rajeev Dhavan, Devadatt Kamat, Salman Khurshid, Huzefa Ahmadi, Meenakshi Arora and Sanjay Hegde during the twoweek hearing. They referred to Constituent Assembly debates on secularism, constitutional provisions relating to freedom of expression, choice as well as religious practice and Quranic verses to argue that hijab, even if construed as a non-essential religious practice, was a matter of choice.
In contrast, the Karnataka government engaged only three law officers — solicitor general Tushar Mehta, state advocate general Prabhuling Navadgi and additional solicitor general K M Nataraj — to argue that the February 5 circular was a secular direction to educational institutions to enforce the prescribed uniforms and that it did not talk of hijab at all.
These three law officers were supported by senior advocates R Venkataramani, D S Naidu and V Mohana, who appeared for teachers from Karnataka and argued that educational institutions must not be the stage for exhibiting competing religious affiliations. An irreligious atmosphere is most conducive for imparting knowledge, they argued.
On the concluding day, Dave and Ahmadi said the solicitor general’s reference to Popular Front of India (PFI) allegedly fuelling the hijab row was not based on facts and hence cannot be taken on record, especially when the state government expressly declined to file counter affidavit to the petitions.
Meanwhile, the apex court refused to entertain a petition by a Haryana-based Sikh woman, who sought permission for ‘amritdhari’ Sikh women to wear turbans to schools. The SC said she was not a resident of Karnataka and that if she is aggrieved by any restriction imposed by a government on ‘amritdhari’ Sikh women wearing turban to educational institutions, she could approach the concerned HC.





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