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Court upholds ban in BJP-ruled state, a ruling that might have a bearing in the rest of the country, home to 200 million Muslims.
An Indian court has upheld a ban on the hijab in class in the southern state of Karnataka, governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice,” Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the Karnataka High Court said in a judgement on Tuesday.
He said the government had the power to prescribe uniform guidelines, dismissing various petitions challenging the order.
Students who had challenged the ban in court had said wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under India’s constitution and an essential practice of Islam.
The ruling could set a precedent for the rest of the country, home to more than 200 million Muslims, who have been targeted by the right-wing BJP and its Hindu supremacist allies since Modi came to power in 2014.
The dispute began in January when a government-run school in Karnataka’s Udupi district barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims and and counter-protests by Hindu students.
More schools and colleges in the state followed with similar bans and the state’s top court disallowed students from wearing hijab until it delivered a verdict.
In India, where Muslims make up 14 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people, the hijab has historically been neither prohibited nor limited in public spheres.
The dispute has led to criticism that Muslims in the country are being further marginalised.
Ahead of the verdict, Karnataka authorities announced closures of schools and colleges and imposed restrictions on public gatherings in some parts of the state to prevent potential trouble.
Last month, federal Home Minister Amit Shah said he preferred students sticking to school uniforms instead of any religious attire.
Karnataka’s ban had led to protests in some other parts of the country too and drew criticism from the United States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.