Quran says hijab ideal, ‘not essential’: Karnataka govt to Supreme Court over ban order
As the hearing on the controversial issue of the hijab ban in India's southern state of Karnataka reached its eighth day on Tuesday, a division bench of the Supreme Court was told that the hijab may be mentioned in the Islamic holy scripture, Quran, as ideal, but it was not essential, or else "Muslim women in countries like Iran would not be fighting against it".
During the hearing on a batch of petitions seeking the right to wear hijabs, a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia said it has to refer to the one verse of the Quran which makes it a "farz" (duty or something mandatory) to wear a hijab.
In response to this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the state, cited the ongoing tensions in Iran and said that if it was so compelling in the Quran, why would women in Iran fight against it?
"Ok, Quran mentions it. Is it so compelling? In Islamic countries, women are fighting against Hijab," Mehta said.
When Justice Dhulia asked which country is that, Mehta replied, "Iran," adding that a mere mention in Quran means it's permissible or ideal but not essential.
Mehta asserted that the court must avoid analysing any religious scripture.
"But for me, this is not about religion. That's how a secular country works. You can express your views on crossroads, not by tying something...." he told the court.
Hijab is the practice or dress code in Islam in which women cover their heads using a cloth.
Petitioners in favour of the practice asserted that "hijab is a symbol of dignity just like a Hindu woman covers her head with her saree".
The apex court has been hearing a batch of 23 petitions challenging the hijab ban in educational institutions in Karnataka.
Some of them are writ petitions filed directly before the Supreme Court seeking the right to wear hijab for Muslim girl students while some others are special leave petitions challenging the March 15 verdict of the Karnataka High Court which upheld the hijab ban.
In its order, the Karnataka HC had also upheld a state order issued on February 5 which suggested that wearing hijabs can be restricted in government colleges where uniforms are prescribed and ruled that such curbs under norms for college uniforms are “constitutionally permissible”.
Mehta argued that till 2021, no girl student was wearing a hijab nor the question arose.
"The new notification (Karnataka government order) does not prohibit only hijab but saffron shawls as well," Mehta told the court.
The SG also argued that it was necessary to bring uniforms in colleges to avoid disparity in what students wear. He said that the issue of wearing hijab arose only after a movement was started on social media by the Popular Front of India in 2022 with its "start wearing hijab" campaign.
"This was a larger conspiracy and children acted as advised," Mehta argued.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for petitioners seeking lifting of the ban, said that hijab cannot be prohibited and it should be respected just the way a Hindu woman covering her head with a saree is.
"Just like Hindu woman covering her head in saree is considered a symbol of dignity, so should be hijab. Everyone has the right to enjoy religious freedom in the most personalized way," said Dave, while citing examples of kanwariyas (devotees of Lord Shiva), who practice their culture with loud music, and worshippers of Lord Ayappa dressed in black in India's southern state of Kerala.
Countering this, Mehta said, "Tomorrow, I can say that in a particular religion, drinking in public is essential. Maybe if I drink alone in public. If I am from a religion which requires me to stand under the sun and drink in the morning, someone will have to decide this."
To this, Justice Dhulia said that such a case will be hit directly by Articles 19 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.
"What you are saying will be hit by public order, morality and health," the judge said.
When Mehta gave an example of "dancing nude in public" in the name of religion, the other judge, Justice Gupta, said it was an "extreme example" which was not appropriate.
"I am sorry for my inability to communicate. My submission is at some point, the court will have to decide whether it is an essential religious practice," Mehta told the bench.
He added that anything done can be included in faith but then there won't be any system in society.
"It is a matter of statutory implementation of a uniform," he said.
The Supreme Court of India will continue hearing the matter on Wednesday.
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