Hijab row not spontaneous, part of larger conspiracy by PFI in 2022: SG Tushar Mehta

The apex court is hearing arguments on a batch of petitions challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict refusing to lift the ban on hijab in educational institutions of the state that have prescribed uniforms

FP Staff September 20, 2022 14:03:02 IST

New Delhi: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that in 2022, a movement was started by the Popular Front of India (PFI) on social media and there were continuous social media messages to “start wearing hijab”. This was not a spontaneous act and was a part of “larger conspiracy,” he added.

The apex court was hearing arguments on a batch of petitions challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict refusing to lift the ban on hijab in educational institutions of the state that have prescribed uniforms.

“Kindly bear two facts in mind, till the year 2021, no girl student was wearing any hijab. Nor this question ever arose. Two, it would be doing disservice to contend that the impugned notification prohibits only hijab. Other community started coming with saffron shawls,” the Solicitor General stated, Live Law reported.

“Saffron shawls are also prohibited. There was one more dimension. I am not exaggerating, if the Govt would not have acted the way it did, the Govt would have been guilty of dereliction of constitutional duty,” he added.

Tushar Mehta later went on to highlight how on 29 March, 2013, a resolution was passed by Udupi PUC to prescribe uniform for girls. “Students were wearing prescribed uniforms, which did not include hijab,” he stated.

Later on, circular constituting CDC was issued in 2014. CDCs of other PUCs unanimously resolved to have the same uniform as prescribed for previous years, he stated.

The Solicitor General said that at the time of admission, petitioners undertook to comply with all the rules of PUC.

“In 2022, a movement was started in social media by Popular Front of India, there were continuous social media messages – start wearing hijab. This was not a spontaneous act by few children. They were a part of larger conspiracy and children were acting as advised,” he added, as per the report by Live Law.

A Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the ban on wearing Hijab in educational institutions in Karnataka.

Asserting that the hijab is the “identity” of Muslims, senior advocate Dushyant Dave earlier told the Supreme Court on Monday that various acts of ommission and commission like Karnataka’s headscarf controversy showed a “pattern to marginalise the minority community”.

“This is not about uniform. I will be able to show to your lordships that by series of acts of commission and acts of omission that have happened, unfortunate incidents, I am not blaming any individual or anybody, but these acts of commission and omission show that there is a pattern to marginalise the minority community,” Dave said.

Arguing that the country has been built on liberal traditions and religious beliefs, Dave, appearing for some of the petitioners, said the kind of atmosphere being seen today was far removed from being called liberal which we have been for 5,000 years. “You (the state authority) are passing this resolution ostensibly saying uniform. Actually it is for some other purpose. The whole idea is that how do I tell the minority community that you are not allowed to profess your beliefs, you are not allowed to follow your conscience. You will do what I tell you,” Dave said.

“We have not hurt anybody’s sentiments by wearing hijab. Our identity is hijab,” he asserted.

The senior advocate said the Constitution has always been interpreted liberally and never in a restrictive sense, and the scope and ambit of Articles 19 and 21 have been expanded in every possible way. While Article 19 of the Constitution deals with protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc, Article 21 pertains to protection of life and personal liberty.

Dave said over 10,000 suicide bombings have taken place in the Islamic world, and in India, only one such incident happened in Pulwama. He was referring to the 2019 terrorist attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama where a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of security forces, killing 40 of them and wounding many others. “That shows that the minority community has placed its faith in us, the majority,” he said.

In the course of arguments, Dave referred to some debates in the Constituent Assembly. “My question is, to what extent the Constituent Assembly debates can be relied upon to interpret the provisions of the Constitution,” asked Justice Hemant Gupta.

“My respectful answer to that is, to full extent,” Dave said.

Dave also asked does wearing hijab amount to threatening the unity or integrity of the country. “That nobody is saying,” the bench said, adding, “That even the judgment (of the high court) does not say.”

The Karnataka government’s order of 5 February, 2022 by which it banned wearing clothes that disturb equality, integrity, and public order in schools and colleges, was referred to in the apex court.

Several pleas have been filed in the top court against the 15 March verdict of the high court holding that wearing hijab is not a part of the essential religious practice which can be protected under Article 25 of the Constitution.

The high court had dismissed the pleas filed by a section of Muslim students from the Government Pre-University Girls College in Udupi, seeking permission to wear hijab inside the classroom.

Challenging the 5 February order of the government, the petitioners had argued before the high court that wearing the Islamic headscarf was an innocent practice of faith and an essential religious practice and not a display of religious jingoism.

(With inputs from agencies)

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