1000s or hundreds of thousands, the Karnataka govt’s ill-motivated ‘Hijab ban’ has pushed Muslim girls out of school

Whether the figure is in the 100s or the hundreds of thousands, young Muslim girls have been pushed out of the state’s schools; CPI-M John Brittas speaking in the Rajya Sabha recently claims it’s close to one lakh

Hijab Ban

CPI(M) leader John Brittas on February 10 raised the hijab issue in the Rajya Sabha claiming that over a lakh Muslim girl students have dropped out of government colleges in Karnataka after the controversial ban on head coverings in educational institutions in the state. Brittas was taking part in a discussion on a private member resolution, moved by Abdul Wahab of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), seeking that the government implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report.

Since early 2021 when the ill-conceived and targeted “Hijab ban’ in the coastal districts of the southern state gripped the headlines and fed the grist of the propaganda mill, several formal and informal surveys have underlined the sharp impact of this restriction of girls (women) participation in education.

Hijab Ban, Drop outs and the Right to Education

This was strongly validated by one of the two judges hearing the famed Hijab case in the Supreme Court. In a split verdict Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia struck down the circular instituting the ban (October 2022). When Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia overturned the circular he did so emphasizing both fundamental rights due to every citizen and directive principles of state policy a constitutional obligation of governments: he declared that demanding Muslim girls’ to remove their hijabs at the school gates constituted a violation of their privacy, a harm against their dignity, and ultimately a denial of a secular education. His verdict was prescient as studies by The Indian Express and also the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) documented the deleterious impact: how young women had been pushed to leave school because of the ban.

How many girls left schools and junior colleges?

A survey conducted by the Indian Express earlier this year gives us a glimpse into the impact. In 2022-23, there were 186 Muslim student enrollments in Udupi’s government PUCs (91 girls and 95 boys), which is almost half compared to the 2021-22 number, 388 (178 girls and 210 boys). Hence the conclusion that there is (was) almost a 50% drop in the admission of Muslim students in government pre-university colleges (PUCs) in Udupi district. Nearly 4,971 students in all categories registered for PUCs in government institutions in Udupi in 2022-23 compared to 5,962 the previous year. The survey also stated that while, fortunately, there is not much change in Muslim students entering pre-university colleges (Class 11) in the district, there is a massive dip in admission to government PUCs. In 2022-23 there were 186 Muslim student enrollments in Udupi’s government PUCs (91 girls and 95 boys), which is almost half compared to the 2021-22 number, 388 (178 girls and 210 boys). In 2022-23, private PUCs saw a hike in Muslim admissions with 927 (487 girls and 440 boys) as compared to 2021-22 number, 662 (328 girls and 334 boys).

Experts opined to the national newspaper that the shift from government to private is due to the recent hijab issue that dominated the early months of 2022. “The enrollment of Muslim girls in our PU college has almost doubled for the first time. This is a testament to how the hijab issue has actually impacted them personally and academically,” Indian Express quoted administrator of Saliath Group of Education, Aslam Haikady saying. Predictably however, Karnataka’s minister of school education B C Nagesh refused to acknowledge this fallout stating to The Indian Express that “there is an overall increase in the overall admissions in PUCs as compared to previous years.”

Almost corroborating the findings of the Express survey, a January 2023, PUCL Karnataka report concluded that “there has been a negative impact of the hijab ban on Muslim girl students in Karnataka as over 1,000 Muslim girls dropping out of the formal education system.” The report titled ‘Closing the Gates to Education: Violations of Rights of Muslim Women Students in Karnataka’ revealed that a total of 1,010 hijab-wearing girls dropped out of PU colleges “because of the hijab ban and other reasons as well”.  The PUCL survey/study covered five Karnataka districts – Hassan, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Shimoga, and Raichur and concluded that the “vilification campaign against hijab-wearing students, “by supremacist Hindutva forces contributed to this situation. The PUCL report also focused on the inaction of the government and the police who gave implicit encouragement to such fundamentalist forces. In the aftermath of the hijab ban, the report observed that students were forced to remove their hijab before entering college premises. Those who continued their education in the same colleges faced many challenges. The report also examines the role of college authorities and administrative and police officials with respect to the ban. According to the PUCL report, Muslim girl students faced humiliation and harassment in classrooms at the hands of the faculty, college administration, and classmates. The report noted that besides being actively prevented from accessing their right to education, Muslim women students also bore the brunt of a climate of hate, hostility, and misinformation.

The state government’s failure to fulfill its obligation to uphold Article 41 of the Constitution (effective provision for securing the right to education). “These rights which have been violated include Right to Education without Discrimination, Right to Equality, Right to Dignity, Right to Privacy, Right to Expression, Right to Non-Discrimination and Freedom from Arbitrary State Action,” the PUCL report said. The human rights platform also alleged that the Karnataka government completely ignored its constitutional obligation in its “single-minded focus on ensuring that the hijab was prohibited in colleges”. It said that several students had to drop out of educational institutes because of the directive.

Urging the Basavaraj Bommai-led government  to rescind the notification that banned the wearing of the hijab in schools and colleges. It also urged the judiciary to carry out an inquiry to look into why the government took such a “sudden, arbitrary and unconstitutional” action.“The human rights commission and minority commission should register suo motu complaints against the principals and CDCs [college development committees] for violating the fundamental rights of the concerned students and initiate actions at the earliest,” the organisation said.

Hijab a matter of personal choice

In this overall climate of exclusion, the split verdict of Justice Dhulia was a breather. He had emphasised that wearing a hijab does not violate public order, morality, health, or decency, some of the justifications for limiting basic rights. He urged that society make fair accommodations in light of India’s numerous traditions. He believed that respect for others’ dignity and a commitment to brotherhood call for tolerance and a willingness to make fair accommodations for their personal views. Contrary to his brother judge on the bench, Justice Hemant Gupta, Justice Dhulia was clear: he believed that the pre-university institution was the ideal setting for teaching students the constitutional ideals of tolerance and accommodation while also exposing them to the diversity that exists in the nation.

In this impressive 73-page verdict, Justice Dhulia focused on the problem of Muslim females being denied access to school. He stressed the violation of Muslim women’s fundamental rights as well as the need of the court to advance diversity rather than uniformity in our nation. While giving his decision, Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia cited the decision given in the Bijoy Emanuel case, which had held that courts only need to test whether a practice is prevalent, was established and a bona fide one, he stated that wearing the hijab meets all three criteria.

Distancing the hijab ban case from the essential religious practice issue, Justice Dhulia acknowledges wearing hijab as the individual’s right to choose. He states it unfortunate that the education of Muslim women had to suffer.

“A girl child for whom it is still not easy to reach her school gate. This case here, therefore, has also to be seen in the perspective of the challenges already faced by a girl child in reaching her school. The question this court would put before itself is also whether we are making the life of a girl child any better by denying her education merely because she wears a hijab!” he noted in para 65 and 66 of his judgment.

He continued by saying that under the constitution, donning a hijab should only be a matter of personal preference. It may or may not be a requirement for practicing one’s religion, but it is still a matter of conscience, conviction, and expression. As long as a girl chooses to wear a hijab, even in a classroom, she cannot be prohibited from doing so, according to Justice Dhulia. In certain circumstances, wearing a hijab is the only way a girl’s orthodox family will allow her to attend school.


Right to Education under attack: Are the Courts misguided in treating the hijab ban case as simply a religious issue?

It is a matter of choice, nothing more nothing less: Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia in Hijab Ban case

Hijab Ban case: SC wonders if right to dress also makes right to undress a fundamental right

BREAKING: Wearing of Hijab not essential religious practice: Karnataka HC

Justice Hemant Gupta’s take on secularism, fraternity and uniformity in the Hijab Ban case





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