‘Exams Have Nothing to Do With Issue’: CJI Declines Urgent Listing of ‘Hijab Ban’ Pleas

New Delhi: Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana did not accept a request for an urgent listing of petitions challenging the Karnataka high court’s order upholding the ban on students in hijab from entering classrooms, noting that “exams have nothing to do with” the matter.

On March 15, a full bench of the Karnataka high court comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice Krishna S. Dixit and Justice J.M. Khazi upheld the ban on wearing hijabs in school and college classrooms, observing controversially that the hijab is not a part of essential religious practices of Islam and that a uniform is a reasonable restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

A first year student of a pre-university government college at Udupi had moved Supreme Court against the Karnataka high court’s verdict.

LiveLaw has reported that senior advocate Devadatt Kamat mentioned the matter before the CJI, citing the fact that examinations were going on and students who were opposed to the idea of taking off their hijab before entering classrooms would miss them.

“Exams have nothing to do with the issue,” CJI Ramana said.

When the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, said that the matter was being repeatedly mentioned, the CJI said, “Mr. SG, can you wait. Don’t sensitise the issue.”

While LiveLaw has transcribed the CJI’s words as “sensitise”, Indian Express has reported that the CJI asked not to “sensationalise” the issue.

“These are girls…the exams are from 28th. They are being restrained from entering the schools. One year will go,” senior advocate Kamat added, according to LiveLaw.

The CJI, however, called for the “next item” without indicating a date for hearing at all.

The CJI’s refusal to list the matter urgently comes amidst the Karnataka government’s announcement that no re-examinations will be held for students in the state who missed their exams because of not being allowed into schools and colleges with their hijabs on.

On March 17, the Supreme Court had asked for more time citing the Holi break.

“Give us some time… we will see after the Holi vacation,” the CJI had told senior advocate Sanjay Hegde.

The issue surrounding the hijab and its ban in classrooms began earlier this year when girl students of an Udupi college were barred from attending classes in hijab.

Protests by the students spread to other places in Karnataka and soon grew into a nationwide issue. The state government announced that all educational institutions would remain shut from February 9 to February 15 or February 16.

The students first approached the Karnataka high court seeking relief and the quashing of the government order on February 5 restraining students from wearing any clothes that could disturb, peace, harmony and public order. In its interim order, the high court upheld this ban, asking students to not insist on wearing religious clothing in educational institutions.

This article was first published on The Wire.