The court decision upholding the ban on hijab in educational institutions in southern India was met with mixed reactions by various sectors.
Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson of the Karnataka bishops’ council, said the purpose of having school uniforms is to ensure equality, and “this must be practiced by all.”
He told Matters India that the hijab issue was “political” and the court decision was “expected.”
The priest said the court might not be biased, but it “could have been more sensitive” by giving some exceptions, such as wearing a headscarf of the same color as the school uniform.”
Eric Christopher Lobo, an educator in Karnataka, said the court order does not affect private schools, although some Christian schools and colleges have already banned the wearing of hijab in campuses.
The Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist has also expressed concern over the decision, saying the court failed to protect the women’ right to education.
The leftist group said the court decision has only emboldened “Hindu supremacists.”
The Karnataka High Court upheld this week a local ban on the hijab in classrooms, weeks after the edict stoked violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority.
Southern Karnataka state was on edge for several weeks after a small group of teenage girls were prevented from wearing the garment on school grounds at the end of last year.
Demonstrations snowballed across the state and police used tear gas to disperse angry crowds as more schools imposed their own bans and radical Hindu groups staged boisterous counter-demonstrations.
The high court ruled that the wearing of the hijab “does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith.”
Its judgement said schools had reasonable grounds to impose dress codes that forbade the headdress in the interests of preventing divisions on religion and other grounds.
“The aim of the regulation is to create a ‘safe space’… and the ideals of egalitarianism should be readily apparent to all students.”
The hijab is an important article of faith in Islam and many in Karnataka say that Muslim girls have worn it in schools for decades, just as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have done with symbols of their respective religions.
Critics accuse authorities in Karnataka, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, of seeking to drive a wedge between religious communities that have coexisted peacefully for generations.
Rights groups say Modi’s election in 2014 has emboldened hardline groups who see India as a Hindu nation and are seeking to undermine its secular foundations at the expense of its 200 million-strong Muslim community. – with reports from Matters India and Agence France Presse