New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a split verdict on a batch of pleas challenging the Karnataka High Court judgment refusing to lift the ban on hijab in educational institutions of the state.
While Justice Hemant Gupta dismissed the appeals against the high court verdict, Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia allowed them.
"There is a divergence of opinion," Justice Gupta said at the outset while pronouncing the verdict.
In view of the split verdict, the bench directed that the appeals against the high court verdict be placed before the Chief Justice of India for constituting an appropriate larger bench.
While pronouncing the judgement, Justice Dhulia said the high court had taken the wrong path and that wearing the Hijab was ultimately "a matter of choice, nothing more, nothing less".
He said his main thrust in the judgment is the concept of essential religious practice which was not essential to the dispute.
Saying that his focus was on the education of the girl child, especially in rural areas, Justice Dhulia asked, "Are we making her life any better".
While allowing the appeals against the high court verdict, Justice Dhulia said he has quashed the state government's February 5, 2022 order which banned wearing clothes that disturb equality, integrity, and public order in schools and colleges.
The SC bench had reserved its verdict on the pleas on September 22 after hearing arguments in the matter for 10 days.
On March 15, the high court dismissed the petitions filed by a section of Muslim students of the Government Pre-University Girls College in Karnataka's Udupi seeking permission to wear the hijab inside classrooms, ruling it is not a part of the essential religious practice in the Islamic faith.
During the arguments in the apex court, many counsels appearing for the petitioners had insisted that preventing Muslim girls from wearing the hijab to the classroom will put their education in jeopardy as they might stop attending classes.
Counsel for the petitioners had argued on various aspects, including the state government's February 5, 2022 order which banned wearing clothes that disturb equality, integrity, and public order in schools and colleges.
Some advocates had also argued that the matter be referred to a five-judge constitution bench.
On the other hand, the counsel appearing for the state had argued that the Karnataka government order that kicked up a row over hijab was "religion-neutral".
Insisting that the agitation in support of wearing hijab in educational institutions was not a "spontaneous act" by a few individuals, the state's counsel had argued in the apex court that the government would have been "guilty of dereliction of constitutional duty" if it had not acted the way it did.
The state government's order of February 5, 2022, was challenged by some Muslim girls in the high court.
(With inputs from Live Law and PTI.)