Snapshot: Karnataka High Court Ruling on Banning Ḥijāb

By Raha Rafii

Courts in India continue to circumscribe Indian Muslims’ religious rights in tandem with the Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014, and his ruling political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In March, the High Court of the state of Karnataka issued a ruling on banning hijāb in government schools; in doing so, it upheld a previous Interim Order that was issued in response to both protests against the ban and counter-protests. The Court’s decision regarding its interpretation of the Indian Constitution and women’s rights, as well as responses by Indian Muslim organizations, are best understood within a political and legal context that includes the “anti-Muslim citizenship law”[1] passed in 2019, so-called “anti-conversion” laws,[2] and destruction or legal confiscations of mosques for Hindu religious use.[3] The Karnataka High Court’s recent ruling also highlighted the growing trend of secular Indian courts interpreting aspects of Islamic practice without recourse to contemporary Muslim scholars; other courts undertook the same procedure in Shayara Bano v. Union of India[4] and Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum,[5] which the Karnataka High Court cited.

  • For the Interim Order and its context, please see here.
  • For the Karnataka High Court’s ruling on the applicability of the Indian Constitution as well as various protected rights to the question of wearing ḥijāb in government schools, please see here.
  • For the Karnataka High Court’s use and interpretation of Islamic sources within the context of Indian law, please see here.
  • For Indian Muslim organizations’ response to the High Court’s ruling, please see here.

Notes:

[1] See Bilal Kuchay, “What you should know about India’s ‘anti-Muslim’ citizenship law,” Al Jazeera (December 16, 2019), https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/16/what-you-should-know-about-indias-anti-muslim-citizenship-law.

[2] See Apoorvanand, “India’s ‘love jihad’ laws: Another attempt to subjugate Muslims,” Al Jazeera (January 15, 2021), https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/15/indias-love-jihad-laws-another-attempt-to-subjugate-muslims.

[3] Umang Poddar, “From Babri to Gyanvapi, how India’s courts have helped escalate Hindutva claims on mosques,” Scroll.in (May 18, 2022), https://scroll.in/article/1024134/from-babri-to-benaras-how-indias-courts-have-helped-to-escalate-hindutva-cases-about-mosques.

[4] See Islamiclawblog, “Shayara Bano v. Union of India, etc. (Supreme Court of India): Judgment on Constitutionalism of Triple Ṭalāq,” Islamic Law Blog (September 11, 2017), https://islamiclaw.blog/2017/09/11/shayara-bano-v-union-of-india-etc-supreme-court-of-india-judgment-on-constitutionalism-of-triple-%e1%b9%adalaq/.

[5] See Akhila Kolisetty, “Case Comment :: The Shah Bano Case as Constitutional Conflict in India’s Muslim Family Law,” Islamic Law Blog (July 27, 2016), https://islamiclaw.blog/2016/07/27/the-shah-bano-case-and-addressing-conflicts-in-indias-muslim-family-law/.

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