Day 5 Hearing: Hijab Ban (Karnataka HC)(Part I)

Hijab Ban in Karnataka Educational Institutions

On February 16th, hearings at the Karnataka High Court in the hijab ban case began on a tense note. Counsels for the intervenor appeared crestfallen as the Bench declared that it would hear only petitioners’ counsels. In response to emphatic protests by the counsels for the intervenors, the Bench relented slightly, stating that while counsels for the petitioners would be given priority, intervenors’ counsels would also be allowed to argue. The focus of the hearing today was on understanding the scope of the College Development Committees’ powers.

Senior Advocate Prof. Ravivarma Kumar argued that the power to prescribe a uniform for pre-university students is not vested in the College Development Committees (CDCs) by the Karnataka Education Act, 1983, and its 1995 Rules.

Rule 11 of the 1995 Rules prescribes that recognised educational institutions may prescribe their own uniform. This uniform shall not be changed for five years. When an education institution wishes to change the uniform, it must inform the parents of the students one year in advance. In the present case, neither the students nor their parents were not given advance notice of the change in uniform. Further, Prof. Kumar stated, CDCs, which were given the authority by the Department of Education to prescribe dress codes, were not recognised by the Act or its Rules.

Prof. Kumar presented a copy of an Annual Report (2021-2022) published by the Department of PU Education. Importantly, he said, the Report stated unequivocally that uniforms were not mandatory for PU colleges and that the prescription of uniforms in government PU colleges is illegal. While this Report was in the nature of guidelines rather than binding rules, it was nevertheless significant.

The State Government gave the CDCs the power to prescribe dress codes. However, CDCs are not authorities under the Karnataka Education Act. CDCs were constituted in January 2014 through a circular issued by the Undersecretary of Education to utilise grants, maintain academic standards and develop the infrastructure of educational institutions. The CDC does not deal with student welfare and discipline.

Chief Justice Awasthi interjected, saying that it was possible that prescribing the uniform could be connected with the maintenance of academic standards. Prof. Ravikumar said that uniforms bore no connection to academic standards. CDCs cannot be given disciplinary powers.

CDCs are headed by Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs). The MLAs are entrusted with administrative powers, which violates the principles of the separation of powers and sounding a death knell for democracy.

Prof. Kumar then moved on to discussing the Muslim students’ Right to Religious Expression under Article 25 of the Constitution of India, 1950.

In Part II, we cover Prof. Kumar’s arguments on religious freedom.