The People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Karnataka published an interim report on the impact of hijab ban in Karnataka’s educational institutions. Through this report, the PUCL has attempted to provide a multi-faceted effect of the Karnataka High Court’s interim order had on the lives of Muslim students, especially Muslim women, living in the Hassan town, a village in rural Hassan district, Mangalore city, Ullal, Hoode, Udupi town, and Raichur town.
It all started with Government PU College, Udupi banning the Muslim students from wearing a hijab inside classrooms in the absence of any rule/resolution/ guideline and the resultant protests for and against this order. On 10 February, 2022, the Karnataka High Court, in the Resham v State of Karnataka, delivered passed an interim order in which it upheld the constitutionality of the notification by the Government of Karnataka which allowed for the ban on the hijab in colleges that have a uniform prescribed by a CDC, ruling that the hijab is not an essential part of Islam.
The PUCL report begins by analyzing the role played by the Karnataka government and the Kannada media. As per the PUCL report, “The Karnataka government was a mute spectator to scenes of college lecturers in a government college in Kundapura actively preventing Muslim girls from entering their colleges on the grounds that they were wearing a hijab on the 4 February 2022.” From giving the power to the College Development Committees (CDCs) to decide on what students should wear, to letting the college management stop hijab wearing Muslim girls from accessing their classrooms, the Karnataka government abdicated its obligation to protect the right to education of Muslim girls. In furtherance to this, as per the PUCL report, “The Kannada TV media has played a major role in weaponizing the interim order of the Karnataka High Court and enforcing an effective ban on the hijab in all college campuses. Its reportage about Muslim students during the hijab controversy was riddled with gender stereotypes.” Thus, even the media played a biased and negative role, contributing to the violation of the constitutional rights to privacy, dignity, life and liberty, of Muslim women and children at risk.
The PUCL team then attempts to focus on the bureaucratic response from the multiple governance structures of the state machineries, namely the education, law-and-order and administration. As per the testimonials provided by the parents, students and members of the Muslim community in the PUCL report, “The rules were being implemented forcibly without any concern for the affected party. Instructions were either given orally or through WhatsApp, making it hard for students to contest or appeal decisions made regarding their education.” The needs and rights of the Muslim girls who were impacted by the prohibition were not taken into consideration by the police in any of the several districts, who were solely concerned with preserving public order, as per the report.in addition to this, the Muslim women felt even more unsafe with the police presence on college campuses, as it effectively militarized educational spaces and created a hostile environment for them.
Post the issuance of interim order by the High Court, as per the PUCL report, “There was an active denial of the rights of Muslim girl students by the concerned departments, but also by use of government machinery to target and vilify the Muslim girl students in particular, and their community in general.” After speaking to the Muslim students facing the brunt, the PUCL team discovered that the order led to rising concerns related to the hijab wearing women pursuing their education, along with a social and psychological impact. “The communal targeting of the Muslim students both within the campus and outside, they are facing constant harassment, insult, and humiliation in and outside the classroom. There is increasing hostility from the college administration as well, in matters such as withholding the issuance of certificates and other important documents like practical exam records,” said the report.
The right to education was the first right to be impacted by the hijab ban. The students stressed that they were unable to exercise their right to an education as a result of the decisions they had to make in the wake of the interim order. Many testimonials have been provided by the Muslim females on the hardships faced by them while exercising their right to education. From receiving rape threats, being forced to sit in separate rooms or remove their hijabs, to being photographed by the police officials and members of the right-wing parties against their consent and being called “o hijab! o burqa” by their classmates and professors, their education institute became an unsafe environment for them.
In the PUCL report, reference have been made to the rights guaranteed to every individual living in India by the Supreme Court, such as the right to dignity (Francis Corallie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi), the right to expression (Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India & NALSA v Union of India), and the right to privacy (Puttaswamy v Union of India). The students provided testimony on this grave infringement on personhood, autonomy, and the right to be free from humiliation—these rights making up the very foundation of the right to dignity.
As per the PUCL report, the 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 study also uncovered unsettling accounts that suggested student drop-out as a result of the hijab controversy.
The following recommendations were given in the PUCL report:
The CM must decisively rescind the notification authorising the prohibition of the wearing of the hijab
The court should conduct an inquiry into why the state government took such a sudden arbitrary and unconstitutional action
The Karnataka government must take adequate measures to strengthen a secular and non-discriminatory learning environment within colleges, allowing the students to express their faith and identity fully and ensuring that such shocking violations do not recur.
The human rights commission and minority commission should register suo-moto complaints against the principals and CDCs of colleges for violating the fundamental rights of the concerned students and initiate actions at the earliest.
The Legal Services Authority at all levels must intervene in this matter and provide all legal assistance to the students to protect their constitutional rights.
The court must issue a directive to the government to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into lost years and expenses incurred as a result of this order and ensure that compensation to the women and their families is paid.
The government must allow the students to enter the classrooms immediately, and in consultation with students, arrange special classes for them.
The court must issue a directive to hold CDCs accountable, by both:
Making the CDCs truly representative, to be accountable to all of the different stakeholders, including members of all communities, students, non-teaching staff, teaching staff, members of civil society, and women.
Conducting an inquiry into cases where the CDC had overstepped its mandate and not provided appropriate forms of redress, in writing, to students and parents who have raised concerns and initiate actions against them.
The entire report may be read here: