The Two-Judge Bench had opposing views on secularity, freedom of expression, and the impact of the prohibition on girls’ education; a wider Bench will now hear the matter.
New Delhi: On October 13, the Supreme Court issued a split decision on whether Muslim students need to remove their hijabs at school gates.
Karnataka’s prohibitive government decision of February 5 was upheld by Justice Hemant Gupta, who stated that “apparent manifestations of religious belief cannot be worn to secular institutions maintained with State monies.”
According to Justice Gupta, ‘secularity’ means homogeneity, as demonstrated by uniformity among students.
According to Justice Gupta, wearing a uniform constituted an acceptable restraint on free expression. The discipline emphasized equality. The state had never compelled children to leave public schools due to hijab restrictions. The student’s decision to stay out was a “voluntary act.”
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia stated that secularity entailed tolerance for “diversity.” Wearing a hijab to school was “ultimately a matter of choice.” “Her hijab is her passport to study,” says a teenager from a strict family.
“Asking the girls to take off their hijab before they enter the school gates is first, an invasion of their privacy, then it is an attack on their dignity, and then ultimately it is a denial to them of secular education… There shall be no restriction on the wearing of hijab anywhere in schools and colleges in Karnataka,” Justice Dhulia ruled.
He said that one of India’s most beautiful sights was a girl going to school like her brother.
“Are we making the life of a girl child any better by denying her education merely because she wears a hijab? All the petitioners (students) want is to wear a hijab! Is it too much to ask in a democracy? How is it against public order, morality, health, or even decency?” Justice Dhulia questioned.
A larger Bench would now hear the case again.
In his ruling, Justice Gupta stated that students must adhere to the discipline of wearing the school uniform without “addition, subtraction, or alteration.” A pupil does not have the legal right to wear a hijab to a secular school. “A girl’s right to express herself through wearing a hijab came to an end at the school gate.”
However, Justice Dhulia argued that the school was a public area. Making a comparison between a school and a jail or military camp was incorrect.
“It is necessary to have discipline in schools. But discipline is not at the cost of freedom or dignity. She carries her dignity and privacy in her person, even inside her school gate or classroom,” Justice Dhulia said.
He said the fallout of the hijab ban had been that some girl students could not appear for their Board exams, and others were forced to seek a transfer, most likely to madrasas, where they may not get the same standard of education.
“This is for a girl child, for whom it was never easy, in the first place, to reach her school gate,” Justice Dhulia emphasized.