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16th March 2022 (6 Topics)

Hijab not an essential practice of Islam, rules Karnataka High Court


The Karnataka High Court recently upheld the ban on wearing hijab in educational institutions in the state, saying wearing hijab is not an essential practice of Islam.


About Religious Freedom Protected under the Constitution:

  • Article 25(1)of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”.
  • It is a right thatguarantees a negative liberty — which means that the state shall ensure that there is no interference or obstacle to exercise 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.

About Essential Religious Practices Test:

  • Over the years, the Supreme Court has evolved a practical test of sorts to determine what religious practices can be constitutionally protected and what can be ignored.
  • Origin of the Essential Practice Doctrine
  • The ‘essential practice’ doctrine can be traced to a 1954 decision of the Supreme Court ‘Shirur Mutt’ case.
  • The SC had held in the Shirur Mutt case that, “In the first place, what constitutes the essential part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference to the doctrines of that religion itself,”.
  • Hence, some acts obtained constitutional protection by being declared “essential” to the practice of that religion and some were denied protection on the ground that they were not essential to it.

The Judgement:

  • Wearing of hijab (head scarf) by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practices in Islamic faith and it is not protected under the right to freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
  • The court ruled that prescription of school uniform does not violate either the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) or the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution, and the restriction against wearing of hijab in educational institutions is only a reasonable restriction constitutionally permissible, which the students cannot object to.
  • The court upheld the legality of the Karnataka Government’s order prescribing wearing of uniforms in schools and pre-university colleges under provisions of the Karnataka Education Act, 1983.

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