The Supreme Court today refused an early hearing on pleas challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict on the Karnataka government’s ban on hijabs inside classrooms. The petitioners had sought early listing of the issue citing upcoming school examinations.
The Chief Justice of India chided Advocate Devdutt Kamat, who was representing the petitioner Muslim student Aishat Shifa, asking him to not “sensationalise the issue”.
Mr Kamat sought urgent listing of the matter saying students are being denied the option to wear hijabs while appearing for exams. He said that exams are starting on March 28 and the student would lose a year as authorities are not allowing entry with a hijab.
“This has nothing to do with exams. Don’t sensationalise the issue,” the CJI said while also refusing to entertain an intervention from the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who tried to argue the matter was not urgent.
On March 16, the Supreme Court had agreed to list after Holi the pleas challenging the Karnataka High Court order on hijab ban in educational institutions.
On March 15, the Karnataka High Court had upheld the state government’s ban on hijab in classrooms saying it was not an essential religious practice of the Islamic faith. The issue of hijab is generated and blown out of proportion by the powers that be, the High Court had said, adding that “some unseen hands are at work to engineer social unrest and disharmony”.
The hijab ban issue has snowballed into a national headline-grabbing controversy as political parties have turned into an opportunity to attack their rivals. Many students have said they would now have no option but to drop out of government schools, and the restrictive cost of private education would mean not continuing with school at all.
The five young women from Karnataka’s Udupi — whose petition seeking that hijab be allowed in classrooms got turned down by the High Court — had told the media that they have been “denied fundamental rights” and feel “betrayed by the country”. Insisting that the issue of hijab, which should have been “resolved at a local level, now has acquired political and communal overtones,” they said they will, however, not drop out of college because of the setback.
A police case was filed against unknown people last week for allegedly threatening the Karnataka High Court Chief Justice over the order on hijab ban. The state government had said it will give “Y category” security to all the three judges who gave the verdict on the hijab matter.
In a First Information Report, lawyer Umapathi S alleged he received a video message on WhatsApp that gave an “open threat of murder” to Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi.
The row had started in December last year as students at a school in Udupi refused to remove headscarves and stop their use despite requests from teachers. Five students then went to court.
As the protests spread, a section of students turned up in saffron scarves, arguing they were also linked to religious identity. Dalit students adopted blue to show support for hijab.