Police have registered an FIR against at least 10 girls for violating prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 of CrPC by staging a protest against the hijab rule outside Girls Empress Govt PU College in Tumkur, Karnataka, on February 17, under Sections 143, 145, 188 and 149 of IPC.
The Karnataka government’s order of February 5, which specified norms for uniforms in schools and colleges, is “innocuous in nature” and not intended to ban the use of headscarves or hijabs by Muslim girls, the state’s advocate general told the High Court on Friday. He said portions of the order, which suggest that it is directed specifically at hijabs, could have been drafted with “better advice”.
Responding to petitions filed by Muslim girl students against the hijab ban, advocate general Prabhuling Navadgi told the full bench of the Karnataka High Court: “The legal submission is that the attack on the February 5, 2022 order, saying that it is irrational, discriminates against Muslim women, that it gives a communal colour, is absolutely without basis.”
The full bench comprises Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna M Dixit and Justice J M Khazi. The government’s response comes on a day when an FIR was filed against 15 girls at a pre-university college in Tumkur for questioning authorities who restricted them from entering the campus wearing hijabs.Navadgi said the February 5 order did not prescribe a ban on hijabs despite its explanatory portions suggesting that restricting the use of headscarves or hijabs on campuses did not amount to a violation of Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion.
“The question of hijab is not there, I have read it ten times but I am unable to read anything about hijab in these two paragraphs (operative portion). The question of either asking institutions to proscribe the hijab or prescribe does not arise. Where does the state say it?” Navadgi said while claiming that the state has been wrongly accused of discrimination.
“They (the petitioners) have unnecessarily dragged us into it and made it an issue. On a plain reading, the order of February 5, 2022, does not prohibit hijab. In fact, we have given complete autonomy to College Development Committees (CDCs) as well as to the private management of institutions to prescribe uniforms and dress codes,” Navadgi argued.
The full bench, however, questioned the advocate general on why the February 5 order had quoted judgments of High Courts to suggest that restrictions on hijabs would not amount to a violation of the right to freedom of religion.
“You say that the order is very innocuous and that it only says that whatever uniforms were prescribed earlier will continue in all the institutions. In the earlier part of the order, you have considered these judgments and said directing not to attend school wearing headscarves is not in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution. Where was the necessity to say all this?” Chief Justice Awasthi asked.
“If judges feel that the paragraph just above the operative portion indicates that hijab should be banned or proscribed, I will clarify as the AG that it is not the purport of the order,” Navadgi said.
“You have not said it in so many words that wearing of hijab should be prohibited, you have not articulately put it, but for a commoner — since the order addresses people like teachers, parents, members of the CDC — how will they interpret this order?” Justice Dixit said.
“On better advice, those things could have been avoided. The government officials are very good at these things and I do not know why they have allowed this. Sometimes, the less said the better it is,” the advocate general admitted.