By Maria Zehra
(The Karnataka High Court’s order of March 15, 2022, upholding the ban on wearing hijab in state-owned educational institutions has had severe repercussions, causing Muslim women to lose degrees and academic years due to their choice to wear the hijab during examinations. This decision has led to Muslim female students being unable to take exams if they opt to wear the hijab.
This article delves into the lingering uncertainty surrounding the prohibition of hijab in state-run educational institutions, as the Supreme Court is yet to provide a definitive ruling. Government authorities appear indifferent to the plight of Muslim women who suffered a year of education loss due to this restriction. The article questions the fairness and compassion of preventing Muslim female students from wearing hijab during exams even after a year, effectively forcing them to choose between their education and religious beliefs.)
While the Supreme Court’s split verdict contained compelling arguments in favor of Muslim female students, especially articulated by Justice Dhulia, the final judgment remains pending. The account elucidates how the prolonged split verdict of the Supreme Court has negatively impacted the education of Muslim female students. In conclusion, there is an earnest plea for the Supreme Court to reconsider its stance on this issue.
Keywords: Hijab, Karnataka High Court, Muslim women, Hijab Ban
Considering the potential impact of specific legal measures or court decisions on the broader public, especially marginalized segments like Muslim women, is an integral part of the legislative process. However, this consideration seems absent in the court’s decision to uphold the hijab ban on March 15, 2022, by the Karnataka High Court.
Following the Karnataka High Court’s order on March 15, 2022, enforcing the hijab ban in state-owned educational institutions with uniform policies, several Muslim girls who chose to wear hijab during exams faced the loss of degrees and academic years. A scholarly article extensively discusses the apparent disregard for the welfare of Muslim women in this decision. The author highlights how the hijab holds significant religious significance within Islam and criticizes the court’s decision for relying on limited Islamic literature without comprehensive examination of prophetic traditions, Quranic interpretations, or the widespread acceptance of hijab by Muslim women (Maria Zehra, 2023). The article also cites past instances in Indian legal history where decisions were made in favor of communities’ essential religious practices out of respect for sincerely held beliefs, such as the Bijoe Emmanuel case.
This piece explores the consequences of preventing Muslim women who choose to wear hijab from taking exams, thereby affecting their education and future prospects. This outcome arises from the hijab ban and the Supreme Court’s divided ruling on October 13, 2022, which remains unresolved for over a year.
Despite recent government emphasis on promoting and safeguarding women’s education in the national education policy, the Karnataka High Court’s decision seemingly disregards the education of Muslim women. Students opting to wear hijab were prohibited from participating in exams. While a simple allowance for hijab during exams could secure the educational paths of these committed Muslim women, the court’s decision, as pointed out by Justice Dulia, lacks thorough consideration. On October 13, 2022, two judges, Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia, issued a split verdict. While Justice Gupta upheld the hijab ban, Justice Dhulia stated it violated constitutional values of unity and integrity. The split verdict prompted a referral to the Chief Justice of India for assembling an appropriate bench.
The National Policy on Education underscores concerns about women’s education and status, aiming for transformative change. Education is perceived as pivotal in reshaping women’s roles. The National Policy on Education (1986) asserts, “Education will be an instrument for fundamental change in the status of women. To counter historical imbalances, a deliberate advantage will be extended to women.”
While some Muslim female students opted to remove their hijabs during exams, others invoked their right to express conscientiously held beliefs, abstaining from exams. Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi claimed that around 17,000 Muslim women skipped exams due to hijab restrictions.
During discussions in the Supreme Court on October 13, 2022, Huzefa Ahmadi conveyed, “My colleague informed me that 17,000 students abstained from exams after the judgment.”
Following the October 13, 2022, Supreme Court split ruling on hijab bans in state-owned educational institutions, Muslim female students returned to the Supreme Court in February 2023. They sought permission to wear hijab during exams, highlighting potential loss of another academic year if denied this right (Shruti Kakkar, 2023).
More than a year has passed since the March 15, 2022, ruling on hijab bans in state-owned educational institutions with uniform policies. However, the Supreme Court is yet to provide a definitive decision. Furthermore, the government’s lack of concern over the education loss and exam restrictions for a substantial number of Muslim women raises accountability questions. The interruption of these women’s education and the injustice they face deserve serious contemplation. It is reasonable for the government to ensure continued education for these individuals despite the ongoing hijab ban split verdict if it truly aims to improve education for Muslim women.
A recent article in The Quint highlights the plight of a girl who chose to continue wearing hijab and lost a year of education due to the Karnataka High Court’s March 15 ruling. Fathima, one such student, laments the lack of attention given to those who upheld their hijab choice, contrasting it with the praise received by those who relinquished it (Fathima, 2023).
It is disheartening that while non-hijab choices are celebrated, the rights of those choosing hijab are overlooked, undermining their education. Rather than prioritizing the education of Muslim women who fought against various odds, the court and government should have considered their hard-earned achievements and allowed hijab during exams, even for a single girl. Numerous Muslim female students’ futures hang in the balance, as the court and government delay a final decision for an entire year.
Advocate Shadan Farasat implored the Chief Justice of India to address this issue, allowing girls to wear hijab and save a year of education. However, the Supreme Court’s response, while stating it “will take a call,” lacks a conclusive decision. This highlights the irresponsibility concerning Muslim women’s education. Revisiting the insightful points made by Justice Dhulia in the split verdict and reconsidering the judgment would be a prudent step.
Justice Dhulia emphasized that “wearing a hijab, under our constitutional scheme, should be a matter of choice. It may or may not be an essential religious practice, but it remains a matter of conscience, belief, and expression. If a girl wishes to wear a hijab, even within her classroom, she cannot be restricted if it’s her choice. In cases where her conservative family permits her education only with the hijab, it becomes her gateway to education” (Shadan Farasat, 2023).
It is anticipated that India’s apex court will promptly address this matter, considering its impact on the education of young Muslim females. These women have overcome significant challenges and shattered stereotypes to attain education. Forcing individuals to choose between religious practice and education is undeniably unfair and harsh. In a society where female education remains undervalued, preventing female students from wearing head coverings during exams is thoughtless.
Significantly, the Karnataka High Court’s order appears to have disregarded the perspectives of Muslim women and scholars. Relying primarily on limited sources, the court’s decision lacks a comprehensive understanding of the issue (Maria Zehra, 2023). A reevaluation of this decision is imperative to protect the educational rights of Muslim female students and their valuable time.
In light of the above, it is crucial for the Supreme Court to prioritize this matter promptly, acknowledging its significance for the education of young Muslim women. The inequalities faced by these women, and the disruption to their education, must not be ignored. Revisiting and reevaluating the arguments presented by Justice Dhulia and issuing a well-considered final verdict can rectify the injustice faced by these students and uphold their rights to education and religious expression.
Fatima Khan (2023): “Everyone Has Forgotten About Us’: Hijabi Students Who Didn’t Remove Headscarf,” The Quint
Kanishka Singharia (2022): “Hijab ban order led to 17,000 girls skipping exams in Karnataka, advocate tells SC,” Hindustan Times
Karnataka High Court (2022): “Hijab Ban In State Educational Institutions,”
Mahila Samakhya Programme, Ministry of Education https://www.education.gov.in/
Maria Zehra (2023): “A Critical Evaluation of Karnataka High Court’s Judgment Concerning the Hijab,” Manchester Journal of Transnational Islamic Law & Practise, vol 18, No 2, pp 154-167
Shruti Kakkar (2023): “Karnataka hijab ban: Girls move Supreme Court for permission to take exam in headscarf,” New India Express
Supreme Court of India (1986): “Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors v State of Kerala & Ors,” Diary No. 69728 / 1986 (India) https://main.sci.gov.in/jonew/
Supreme Court of India (2022)
“Supreme Court Issues Split Verdict in Hijab Ban Case,” SCO Daily
Courtesy Muslim Mirror
Disclaimer: Impact of Karnataka High Court’s Hijab ban on Muslim women’s access to quality education - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view