Indian court upholds 'discriminatory' hijab ban in classrooms

Indian court upholds 'discriminatory' hijab ban in classrooms
The Karnataka High Court has effectively banned Muslim girls and women from wearing the hijab in their classrooms as the south Indian state veers further towards intolerance and hate.
3 min read
Karnataka's high court ruled that wearing the hijab was not an essential Islamic religious practice [Getty]

An Indian court upheld a ban on the hijab in classrooms on Tuesday, weeks after the law stoked angry protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country's Muslim minority.

The southern Indian state of Karnataka has been on edge for several weeks after a small group of girls in their late teens were prevented from wearing the hijab on school grounds at the end of last year.  

Demonstrations snowballed across the state and police used tear gas to disperse angry crowds as more schools imposed their own bans and radical Hindu groups staged boisterous counter-demonstrations.

After weeks of deliberations, Karnataka's high court ruled that wearing the hijab was not an essential Islamic religious practice.

"Prescription of uniform is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights," the court said.

The state’s home minister, Araga Jnanendra, said that extra officers had been deployed to police stations on Monday night to ensure law and order was maintained ahead of the ruling.

The state is home to Bengaluru, a centre of India's IT industry and one of the country's most cosmopolitan and progressive cities. 

Many in Karnataka say that Muslim girls have worn the hijab in schools for decades, just as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have done as symbols of their respective faiths.

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Critics accuse authorities in Karnataka, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of seeking to drive a wedge between religious communities that have peacefully coexisted for generations.

The Karnataka government last month attempted to impose calm by closing schools for several days and banning protests.

The state high court initially ordered a temporary ban on the wearing of all religious symbols - including Hindu and Christian ones - in schools.

Schools reopened in February under heavy security with a ban on gatherings of more than four people.

A number of Muslim pupils told local media they would rather go home than be made to choose between their faith and education.

"My daughter has been wearing the hijab since she was five years old. It is to protect her dignity," Nasir Sharif, 43, the father of a 15-year-old girl, told AFP last month. "What they are asking us to do is humiliating."

Karnataka’s dangerous slide towards Hindu nationalism began when Modi’s right-wing BJP took power in the state elections in 2018. Attacks against both Muslims and Christians have become more commonplace over the past four years. Muslims have been routinely beaten, harassed and killed, and a rights group found at least 42 attacks against the Christian community in 2021.