Indian court upholds headscarf ban in schools in southern states despite protests

An Indian court upheld a local ban on headscarves in classrooms on Tuesday, weeks after the fatwa fueled violent protests and renewed fears of discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority.

The southern Indian state of Karnataka has been on alert for several weeks after a small group of girls in their late teens were banned from wearing a headscarf in school grounds at the end of last year.

Demonstrations escalated across the state and police used tear gas to disperse angry crowds as more schools imposed their own bans and Hindu extremist groups staged loud counter-demonstrations.

After weeks of deliberations, the Karnataka High Court ruled that wearing the headscarf is not an essential Islamic religious practice.

“The statute of limitations is a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights,” the court said.

The state’s home minister, Araga Gnanendra, said additional officers had been deployed to police stations on Monday evening to ensure law and order was maintained before the verdict was issued.

Many in Karnataka say Muslim girls have been wearing headscarves in schools for decades, just as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have done with their own symbols.

Critics accuse authorities in Karnataka, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of seeking to drive a wedge between religious communities that have lived side by side peacefully for generations.

The Karnataka state government last month tried to enforce calm by closing schools for several days and banning protests.

The state Supreme Court initially ordered a temporary ban on the wearing of all religious symbols – including Hindu and Christian symbols – in schools.

Schools reopened in February under tight security, with gatherings of more than four people banned.

Several Muslim students told local media that they would rather go home than be forced to choose between their faith and education.

“My daughter has been wearing the hijab since she was five. This is to protect her dignity,” Nasser Sharif, 43, the father of a 15-year-old girl, told AFP last month.

“What they ask us to do is insulting,” he added.


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