Writ Petition Summary (Mohamed Arif Jameel v State of Karnataka)Hijab Ban in Karnataka Educational Institutions
In December 2021, Muslim students wearing the hijab were barred from entering the Government Pre-University College, Udupi. On January 1st 2022, the College Development Committee of the College passed a resolution stating that students would not be allowed to wear the hijab to college.
Muslim students filed a petition at the Karnataka High Court challenging this ban. They claimed that the ban violated their Rights to Religious Expression, Freedom of Speech, Privacy respectively held under Articles 25, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950. The students further claimed that College Development Committees did not have the power to impose dress codes.
The Karnataka Government subsequently issued an Order on February 5th, 2022, effectively banning students from wearing the hijab in the State’s educational institutions.
On February 10th, the Karnataka High Court issued an Interim Order barring hijabs and other religious symbols from being worn in classrooms. After twelve continuous days of hearings, the High Court delivered a Judgment on March 15th 2022 upholding the ban on the hijab.
The petitioner in this case filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Karnataka High Court challenging the hijab ban on February 10th 2022. This was dismissed by the March 15th Karnataka High Court Judgment. This petition (Mohamed Arif Jameel v State of Karnataka) is a Special Leave Petition challenging the Karnataka High Court’s Judgment.
What have the petitioners prayed for?
The petitioner has asked the Court to strike down the Karnataka Government Order issued on February 5th, 2022, that bars students from wearing the hijab in State educational institutions.
The petitioners argue that wearing the hijab is protected by Article 25(1) of the Constitution as it is an Essential Religious Practice, or an integral aspect of the Islamic faith. The suras (chapters) of the Quran as well the hadith (the collected sayings of Prophet Muhammad) underscore that the hijab is essential to Islam. The High Court had erred in relying solely on the work of a certain Islamic scholar, who had, in the petitioner’s eyes, misinterpreted the tenets of the Quran.
The petitioners further argued that prohibition on the hijab violates the Right to Equality held under Article 14 of the Constitution. For a law to pass the test of Article 14, the classification that the law creates between two groups must bear a ‘rational nexus’ (logical connection) to the object of a law. The law in this case creates a distinction between students wearing the hijab and students who do not wear the hijab. The hijab ban in this case bears no nexus to public order in educational institutions. As a result, the law creates a sense of ‘social separateness’.
The petition states that the ban on the hijab violates Article 15(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees the Right Against Discrimination. Article 15(1) prohibits discrimination on various grounds including religion. The petitioners argue that hijab ban discriminates against Muslim women based on their faith.
The right to wear the hijab is protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees the Right to Free Speech and Expression. Wearing the hijab is an expression of religious identity. Rights under Article 19(1)(a) may be curtailed only on the basis of the grounds (‘reasonable restrictions’) mentioned in Article 19(2). The grounds under Article 19(2) were not made out in the Government Order.
The petition added that the Karnataka Government is not empowered to prescribe a uniform. The provisions of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983 does not prescribe a uniform or outline punishments for failure to wear a uniform. The scheme of the Act indicates that it applies to institutions rather than students.
The Karnataka Educational Institutions (Classification, Regulation and Prescription of Curricula) Rules, 1995 allow educational institutions to prescribe uniforms. They make it mandatory for institutions to prescribe uniforms. That being said, the Rules do not provide punishments to students for failing to wear a uniform.
The Karnataka Government Order banning the hijab was issued under s 133(2) of the Karnataka Education Act. According to this provision, the State Government may issue directions to institutions. These directions must be necessary for carrying out the purposes of the Act or give effect to the provisions of the Act. The Order does not mention the objective of the Act that it seeks to achieve.
Several other petitions in the same vein have been filed at the Supreme Court challenging the Karnataka High Court’s March 15th Judgment.