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Can State impose limits on students’ fundamental rights in the classroom: Supreme Court

  • Published
    20th Sep, 2022
Context
  • The Supreme Court has raised questions over the legitimacy of states placing curbs on the rights of students in classrooms (Karnataka hijab case).
About

Religious Practices and Rights: Arguments

  • It is argued in the court that, the Fundamental right can be exercised anywhere, whether in the classroom or any other place, subject to legitimate restrictions.
  • The court has tried to seek an answer to, what actually amounts to a ‘religious practice’. Wearing a particular dress, while conducting puja, may be linked to religion. But is wearing a particular dress outside religious places within the ambit of 'religious practice”?
  • India is a "beautiful democracy" where the majority are obliged not to discriminate against minorities. The secular state in the Indian Constitution meant a state that does not discriminate on religion, a state that does not patronize nor prefer one religion over the other.

How is Religious Freedom Protected under the Constitution?

  • Article 25(1) of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion”.
  • It is a right that guarantees negative liberty, which means that the state shall ensure that there is no interference or obstacle to exercising this freedom.
  • However, like all fundamental rights, the state can restrict the right for grounds of public order, decency, morality, health, and other state interests.

The argument in Support of the Hijab Ban:

  • Hijab is not an essential religious practice and the freedom of religion can be subjected to reasonable restrictions under constitutional provisions for maintaining institutional discipline.
  • Educational institutions can impose dress codes/uniforms prohibiting religious dress to ensure secular education.
  • Public places are meant to be secular; religion has to be kept out of them.
  • The right to practice religion is subject to several restrictions and rules of public morality.
  • The spirit behind a dress code is of ensuring homogeneity in a classroom and obliterating the visible class or caste divide.

The argument against Hijab Ban

  • Constitutional Right - Wearing of hijab is their fundamental right under the right to freedom of religion under article 25, and also wearing a hijab is an expression protected under Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Irrational restrictions - Government has the right to restrict fundamental rights to protect the sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of courts.
    • But Students silently wearing a hijab/headscarf and attending class cannot in any manner be said to be a practice that disturbs “public order”.
  • India is a land of diversity, and the diversity in the classroom must reflect this social reality, as this helps students to know about different diverse groups and they learn to respect diversity.
    • If the classroom becomes homogeneous then students could feel uncomfortable in a Heterogeneous Indian Society.

Important cases:

  • Amna Bint Basheer v Central Board of Secondary Education (2016)
  • Fathima Tasneem v State of Kerala (2018)
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