A central question before the court is whether the wearing of the hijab by Muslim girls/women constitutes an “essential religious practice”. Whatever the government’s intentions (for example, to promote equality or harmony in educational institutions), it cannot restrict an essential religious practice, unless it constitutes a clear violation of public order, morality (constitutional) and health.
The high court will hear arguments from lawyers for the Muslim girls, including lead attorneys Sanjay Hegde and Devadatt Kamat, who will argue that forcing the girls to remove the hijab is a violation of their constitutional rights.
They also challenged an ordinance passed by the BJP government in the state on February 5, which prohibited the wearing of any clothing “disturbing public order”.
The two lead attorneys highlighted the Supreme Court’s protection of freedom of conscience in the historic Bijoe Emmanuel case, where the Supreme Court overturned a school’s decisions to expel students of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith who would not sing the national anthem for religious reasons (even though they would defend it).
Karnataka’s Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi is expected to argue in favor of the student restrictions.