Karnataka Hijab Row: Incorrect Years, Cases Cited by BJP officials
BJP spokesperson Sanju Verma and media panelist Charu Pragya lack context while referring to court orders to support the state govt's decision
Three days after the Karnataka state government issued a government order banning hijab in educational institutions, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) National Media Panelist Charu Pragya and its spokesperson Sanju Verma tweeted references to constitutional court orders supporting the government's decision.
Verma and Pragya jointly referred to a 2003 Bombay High Court and 2018 Kerala High Court orders along with Madras High Court decisions in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Additionally, Verma has also referred to a 2015 Supreme Court to say that hijab "was not needed in educational institutions".
FactChecker and BOOM, in a collaborative effort, verified these statements. Apart from the high court and the years, there are no other details mentioned. Verma and Pragya are not only vague in their assertions, but they have also failed to point out high court orders which have allowed students to wear headscarves in school. The duo in some instances have also cited incorrect years for judgement they could possibly be referring to.
Except for the 2018 Kerala HC order, which appears to be the only contextually correct order referred to, and the 2006 Madras HC order pertaining to an Election Commission matter, none of the other orders find mention in the Karnataka government's reply before the high court in the ongoing hijab row proceedings.
In the past fortnight, the debate over one's constitutional right to wear the hijab has intensified on and off campuses and in the Karnataka High Court, where the bench led by Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi is conducting daily hearings on this issue.
Here are all the orders the duo referred to and what they say about hijabs in educational institutions.
Bombay High Court, 2003
Though Sanju Verma and Charu Pragya referred to a 2003 Bombay High Court order, FactChecker found no reference to the same. However, it did find an August 2002 order where the Bombay High Court had denied a minor girl's plea to wear a headscarf to her all-girls school. The minor Muslim girl had filed a plea in the high court after the school principal warned her against attending class if she wore a headscarf.
"A girl student not wearing the headscarf or head covering studying in an exclusive girls section cannot be said to in any manner acting inconsistent with the aforesaid verse 31 or violating any injunction provided in Holy Quran," the high court order read.
"The essence of Muslim religion or Islam cannot be said to have been interfered with by directing petitioner not to wear head-scarf in the school," it added. The court however, also noted that there was no reason to interfere since the student in question was attending school without her headscarf.
Madras High Court, 2006 and 2007
Sanju Verma and Charu Pragya erroneously referred to Madras High Court rulings in 2006 and 2007 to say that the court had said no hijab in educational institutions.
The Madras High Court has not passed any such order in either 2006 or 2007. Verma and Pragya did not reply to any attempts made by FactChecker seeking clarification or further details of the cases they mentioned.
Even though Pragya tweeted about a 2007 Madras High Court, she sent FactChecker a screenshot of a September 2006 Madras High Court order in the M Ajmal Khan vs Election Commission (EC) case. However, this order does not relate to hijab in educational institutions, it deals with Khan's challenge to the EC decision of adding photos of Muslim women to the eligible voters list.
In his plea, Khan alleged Muslim Gosha women followed the purdah — an essential religious practice — and as such their photographs could not be published on electoral rolls which could be easily accessible by anyone.
In the 2006 Ajmal Khan verdict, the Madras High Court had observed that the purdah — which was "neither of Islamic nor Arabian origin" — was not adopted by a majority of the Muslim women and was thus not an essential religious practice. Justices AP Shah and K Chandru had referred to a 1994 Malaysian Supreme Court judgment and observed that "there is almost unanimity amongst Muslim scholars that purdah is not essential but covering of head by scarf is obligatory."
The division bench had also observed that the poll panel's decision to publish photographs of eligible voters was done with a view to improving the fidelity of the electoral process to evolve methods to check impersonation and eradicate bogus voting.
2015 Supreme Court order
Sanju Verma also tweeted about a 2015 Supreme Court ruling to say hijab was not allowed in educational institutions. On July 24, 2015 the Supreme Court had upheld the CBSE ban on candidates wearing scarves, and full-sleeves clothing for the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) exams to be held the next day.
"Faith is not connected to the clothes you wear," the Supreme Court had orally observed, adding that the plea seeking one's right to wear clothes as dictated by a religion was "nothing but an ego issue".
The top court's observation came on a plea filed by Student Islamic Organisation of India and a group of students led by Mariam Naseem who sought relaxations similar to those granted by the Kerala High Court three days prior to two Muslim girls to wear their head scarf to the AIPMT exam halls in the state.
However, according to details available on the Supreme Court's website, no orders were issued in this matter since the petition was dismissed as withdrawn.
Kerala High Court, 2018
Lastly, Sanju Verma and Charu Pragya both referred to the Kerala High Court December, 2018 which barred two Muslim minor students from wearing a headscarf in a private school. Perhaps, this is the only judgement which Verma and Pragya have rightly tweeted about.
In the 2018 Fathima Thasneem order, the Kerala High Court said it was for the educational institution to decide whether the students could be permitted to attend the classes with the headscarf and full sleeve shirt. The Muslims students who wished to wear a head scarf or a hijab could not seek imposition of their individual right as against the larger right of the institution, Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque had said.
Interestingly, in 2016, Justice Mustaque had passed the landmark verdict allowing Muslim students to wear a hijab during the All India Pre-Medical Test examinations. Justice Mustaque had ruled that it was a woman's fundamental right to wear clothes in accordance with the injunctions of their religion.
(With inputs from BOOM's Ritika Jain)