India’s top court split on school ban on Muslim headscarves

Litigation Reports

Two judges on India’s top court on Thursday differed over a ban on the wearing of the hijab, a headscarf used by Muslim women, in educational institutions and referred the sensitive issue to a larger bench of three or more judges to settle.

Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia issued a split ruling after hearing petitions filed by a group of Muslims against a high court’s judgment in Karnataka state. The state court had refused to stay a government order issued in February that banned people from wearing clothes that disturb equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges.

Karnataka State Education Minister B.C. Nagesh said Thursday the ban on wearing the hijab in educational institutions in the state would continue until the top court settled the issue of whether the Muslim headscarf is an essential religious practice in Islam.

The dispute began early this year when a government-run school in Karnataka’s Udupi district barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims who said they were being deprived of their fundamental rights to education and religion. Hindu students launched counter-protests by wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.

More schools in the state followed with similar bans and the state’s high court disallowed students from wearing hijab and any other religious clothing. The Muslim groups petitioned the Supreme Court against the ban.

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