The Indian Muslim Student Association, in conjunction with the South Asian Outreach Network and the Sikh Student Association, held a seminar at the Trotter Multicultural Center on Thursday evening in response to the outcome of the recent Resham v. State of Karnataka. In March, the highest court in India’s Karnataka state upheld a hijab ban in schools and colleges, with the court ruling that the hijab was not ‘essential’ for self-identifying Muslim female students. like women to wear to school.
The case came to the Karnataka High Court after six Muslim women were denied entry to the Udupi Women’s PU College in Udupi town in January. The students claimed they were discriminated against for wearing a hijab, which was not part of the assigned school uniform. The refusal prompted students to file a petition against the school, claiming the decision was a violation of Articles 14, 15, 19, 21 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.
At the Trotter Workshop, eight guest panelists – including UM students and faculty – shared their thoughts on the legality of India’s hijab ban. Meenu Deswal, a student at Rackham, spoke first and said several legal scholars and activists had criticized the court’s decision. She quoted the words of the jurist Gautam Bhatia, who notably criticized the decision rendered on March 15.
“He’s a jurist who says ‘the crucial mistake the court made is that they sanctify the uniform instead of sanctifying the education,'” Deshwal said. “The judgment raises a number of important issues relating to the interpretation or misinterpretation of fundamental rights and freedoms, the reading and misreading of constitutional provisions by the judges of the Karnataka High Court.”
Articles 14 and 15 guarantee the equality of all Indian citizens, protecting them from discrimination based on religion, race, sex, caste or place of birth. Article 19 guarantees the freedom of expression of all citizens. Article 21 protects the right to life, liberty and education for all citizens. Article 25 guarantees the free practice of religion for all citizens of India.
The three judges who upheld the ban said the hijab is not essential to Muslim religious practices. They ruled that school uniforms are reasonable restraints and are therefore constitutionally permitted. The move comes after the Bharatiya Janata Party – one of Karnataka’s two main political parties – was accused of turning a blind eye to crimes against Muslims in the state.
Following the ruling, Muslim citizens, students and other communities in India started protesting the decision. As the protests grew, protesters found themselves met by right-wing Hindu counter-protesters. The protests led the Karnataka government to temporarily close schools for three days.
Deshwal said the decision illustrates the ongoing militarization and politicization of Muslim women’s rights, since the policies are justified as liberating Muslim women, but in reality take away agency and religious expression from Muslim women. She provided historical examples of policies that sparked debate on Muslim women’s rights in India, such as the Shah Bano judgment (1985), which granted Muslim women the right to divorce; the Protection of Rights in Divorce Act (1986); the Shayara Bano case (1985); and the Muslim Women (Protection of Marriage Rights) Act (2019).
“Judges affirm that banning hijab in classrooms is a step in the direction of women’s empowerment and more specifically towards access to education,” Deshwal said. “So they claim it’s a progressive step, but how can a decision like this empower women when it doesn’t even recognize women’s choice?”
Freshman LSA student Bilal Irfan, another of the panelists and president of the LSA student government, said that recent cases regarding the Muslim Personal Law Enforcement (Shariah) Act of 1937 have been used to allow the majority Hindu government to regulate Islamic practices.
“You see a case of Indian jurists actively interpreting Islamic law, and judging and acknowledging what is essential practice,” Irfan said. “I think that’s really where this legal question comes in… (about) the right of Muslims to interpret their own law.”
LSA senior Ramneet Chauhan and LSA freshman Gurleen Chauhan, members of the Sikh Student Association, also spoke about bills that have marginalized Indian minority communities. They mentioned the exclusion of Muslims from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, which created a naturalization process for members of certain religious communities fleeing to India from neighboring countries.
Ramneet Chauhan also pointed out that members of the Sikh community were required to remove their turbans to enter state schools in Karnataka.
“This single decision to ban the hijab can also extend to other religions,” said Ramneet Chauhan.
LSA Senior Nabighah Azim, President of IMSA, said in an interview with the Michigan Daily that she was inspired to create the course to educate members of the Ann Arbor community about anti-Muslim discrimination in India. She also said Trotter served as a safe activist space for teaching.
“We (the organizers) chose to make this event a lesson because a lot of people are not informed about what is happening in India and especially not to this extent,” Azim said. “I really wanted this (event) to be something where there is a moment of togetherness here because this (hijab ban) is not something that only Muslims should just sit and talk about. There are so many marginalized communities that unfortunately are not defended. We should all be working on community awareness and advocacy. »