India’s top court is divided over a ban on the Muslim headscarf in schools

NEW DELHI (AP) — Two judges on India’s highest court on Thursday disagreed over a ban on the hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women, in educational institutions and referred the sensitive issue to a larger bench of three or more judges. setting up.

Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia delivered a divisive judgment after hearing petitions filed by a group of Muslims against the high court order in the state of Karnataka. The state court had refused to stay a government order issued in February banning people from wearing clothes that disrupt equality, integrity and public order in schools and colleges.

Karnataka state education minister BC Nagesh said on Thursday that the hijab ban in the state’s educational institutions will continue until the high court resolves the issue of whether the Muslim headscarf is a core religious practice in Islam.

The controversy began earlier this year when a government school in Karnataka’s Udupi district banned hijab-wearing students from entering classrooms, sparking protests from Muslims who said they were being denied their fundamental rights to education and religion.

Hindu students launched counter-demonstrations wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.

More schools in the state followed suit with similar bans, and the state’s highest court banned students from wearing the hijab and any other religious attire. Muslim groups petitioned the Supreme Court against the ban.

Supreme Court Justice Gupta said on Thursday that there was a difference of opinion and that the matter should be referred to a larger bench of more than two judges. He rejected the appeal of Muslim groups against the government order.

However, Justice Dhulia said there was no need to gut the basic religious practice and the state high court had gone the wrong way. “It was just a matter of choice. One thing that was the top for me was educating a… child,” he said.

During the arguments, the petitioners insisted that preventing Muslim girls from wearing the hijab in class would jeopardize their education as they might stop attending school.

The state government, however, claimed that its order banning hijab in classrooms was “religion neutral”.

Karnataka state’s ban does not extend to other Indian states, but the Supreme Court’s decision could set a precedent for the rest of the country.

Violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, which also rules Karnataka state.

Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people, fear being marginalized as a minority in India and see the hijab bans as a worrying escalation of Hindu nationalism under the Modi government.

Some rights activists have raised concerns that the ban could increase Islamophobia.

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