Bengaluru: In a major relief to Muslim women students in Karnataka, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced on Friday that he has directed the state authorities to withdraw the controversial ban on hijab in educational institutions. He said that women have the right to choose their own attire and the government will not interfere in their personal choices.
Siddaramaiah announced on the microblogging site X, that he also lashed out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for imposing the ban in 2022 when it was in power. He accused the BJP of dividing the people and the society based on clothes, dress, and caste. He said that the BJP’s policies were against the secular and democratic values of the country.
The hijab ban sparked a huge uproar in the state, with Muslim women students and activists protesting against the violation of their fundamental rights. The ban was challenged in the Karnataka High Court, which upheld the BJP government’s decision in March 2022. The court ruled that wearing a hijab was not an essential religious practice of Islam and that the uniform dress code should be followed in all educational institutions.
The High Court verdict was widely criticized by human rights groups, civil society organizations, and political parties. Several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against the verdict, seeking its quashing. The Supreme Court heard the petitions and delivered a split verdict in September 2022. While Justice Hemant Gupta dismissed the appeals, Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia allowed them, stating that wearing a hijab was a matter of choice and not a religious compulsion.
The Supreme Court verdict had created confusion and uncertainty among the Muslim women students, who faced harassment and discrimination from some educational authorities and Hindu groups. Many students were denied admission or entry to classrooms for wearing hijab. Some students were also forced to remove their hijabs outside the school gates.
The hijab controversy had also triggered communal tensions in the state, with Hindu groups staging counter-protests and demanding that Muslim women students follow the uniform dress code. Some Hindu groups also wore saffron scarves and bandanas to express their opposition to the hijab.
The lifting of the hijab ban by the Siddaramaiah government has been welcomed by Muslim women students and their supporters, who have hailed it as a victory for their constitutional rights and dignity. They have also thanked the Chief Minister for his bold and progressive decision. They have expressed hope that the decision will end the discrimination and violence that they faced because of the ban.