On October 22, Karnataka higher education minister M.C. Sudhakar declared that hijab-wearing candidates will be allowed to appear for recruitment examinations conducted by the Karnataka Examinations Authority (KEA). A report of the Times of India further provided that Sudhakar also clarified that any restriction imposed on attire would amount to an infringement of the rights of individuals. The KEA exams will be held on October 28 and 29 to fill vacancies in five government-run corporations
A report of the Hindustan Times provided that the above-mentioned announcement was made after a progress review meeting was held with Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to discuss the issue of filling vacancies. Sudhakar clarified that the issue of hijab was not discussed in the said meeting and that candidates are allowed to wear hijab in NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) examinations as well. He said, “The hijab issue was not part of the discussion. Some want to raise objections to small things, but we cannot infringe on the rights of people. Even in NEET, candidates [are] allowed to wear hijab,” he said, according to the Wire.
As soon as the news surfaced, Hindutva groups threatened protests in the state. Nevertheless, in the face of the opposition, the State Education Minister stood strong and backed his decision. Speaking with IndiaToday, Sudhakar stated that “I think that the people who are protesting should verify the guidelines of the NEET exam. I don’t know why they are making an issue out of this…People are allowed to wear hijabs…”
In addition to this, Sudhakar also emphasized on an individual’s right to dress and stated “This is a secular country. People are free to dress however they want.” He also assured the students wearing hijab would be asked to appear at the exam centre at least one hour prior to the commencement of the exam.
The aforementioned stand taken by the Congress government in Karnataka can be a significant move in the positive direction. The hijab controversy had originally erupted in wake of a Government Order issued on February 5 by the previous BJP government in Karnataka. The GR was against the wearing of religion specific clothing in schools and pre-university colleges where a uniform has been prescribed. What followed was harassment of hijab-wearing girls on school and college campuses across the state.
Some were surrounded and heckled, others faced intimidation tactics by members and supporters of right-wing Hindutva groups. Some were even denied entry into educational institutions until they removed the traditional headscarf.
Notably, in March 2022, the Karnataka High Court had upheld the ban on hijab and had declared that hijab was not an essential part of religious practice. In October, the said High Court order was challenged in the Supreme Court. On October 13, 2022, a two-judge bench comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia had delivered a split judgment. In view of the “divergence in opinion”, the apex court directed the matter to be placed before the Chief Justice of India for appropriate directions. which had resulted in a split verdict. The Supreme Court is yet to constitute a larger bench in the case.