Day 6 Hearing: Hijab Ban (Karnataka HC)

Hijab Ban in Karnataka Educational Institutions

On February 17th 2022, the Bench hearing the challenge to the hijab ban in State educational institutions at the Karnataka High Court grew increasingly exasperated with every passing submission.

Mr. Rahamathulla Kotwal appearing on behalf of an individual who had filed a PIL in the matter, argued that the hijab ban contravened India’s obligations under international law. Citing Article 51(c) of the Constitution of India, 1950, he said that the State was constitutionally obligated to abide by the Articles of the UDHR, CEDAW and the ICCPR.

The hearing took an abrupt turn when the Bench started to chide Mr. Kotwal for failing to provide his ‘bonafides’. Mr. Kotwal said that he had filed a proforma affidavit, but the Court was unable to find it. Justice Dixit, in an uncharacteristic display of annoyance, said that Mr. Kotwal was wasting the time of the Court. Pointing to Rule 14 of the Karnataka High Court PIL Rules, 2018, Chief Justice Awasthi said that the PIL failed to comply with its requirements. The Bench dismissed the PIL with costs.

Dr. Vinod Kulkari, appearing as party-in-person in a PIL, said that the hijab ban was creating mass hysteria. The ban was affecting the mental health of Muslim students. He requested the Court to allow Muslim students to wear the hijab on Fridays and during the month of Ramzan. He asserted that wearing the hijab is not violative of public order, health or morality. The Quran required Muslim women to sport the hijab. Awasthi CJ asked Dr. Kulkarni to show the Court which verses of the Quran contained this prescription, saying that statements could not be made without substantiation. Dr. Kulkarni claimed that the hijab ban amounted to banning the Quran itself.

Senior Advocate A.M. Dar started to argue that the Karnataka Government Order banning the hijab was cryptic and unconstitutional. Merely a minute after he had begun to argue, Awasthi J asked Mr. Dar to clarify on whose behalf he was arguing. Mr. Dar said that he was arguing on behalf of five Muslim college students who had been affected by the Court’s Interim Order banning the hijab and other religious attire in State educational institutions. Dixit J, visibly incensed, said that the petition did not reveal a clear cause of action, and that it was not maintainable in the manner in which it had been filed. The petition was dismissed as withdrawn, with the liberty to file it afresh.

Dixit J appeared to aptly capture the tenor of the courtroom when he said that the the counsels today were ‘wasting the time’ of the Bench after the previous counsels had argued the merits of the case so ably.

The Advocate General of Karnataka asked the he be allowed to argue on behalf of the State during the next hearing. Senior Advocate Sajjan Poovayya and Mr. Naganand, representing the Government PU College and a teacher from the same institution, said that they would argue the matter after the State made its arguments.

The Court will continue hearing the matter tomorrow.