NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday saw a rush of appeals challenging the Karnataka high court’s ruling that hijab is not an essential religious practice and that the government order effectively banning the headgear in educational institutions is valid.
Soon after the judgment was pronounced in the morning, Niba Naaz, a student, filed a special leave petition in the apex court, claiming that the HC erred fundamentally by ruling that hijab is not an essential religious custom even though Quran and Islam mandate it. She also said the verdict robbed Muslim women of their freedom to dress by choice.
The original petitioner before the Karnataka HC, student Aishat Shifa, is expected to file her appeal against the high court judgment only by Wednesday. She was represented by senior advocate Devadatt Kamat and advocate Javedur Rehman, who had argued before the HC for days. Kamat is likely to mention the appeal before CJI NV Ramana with a request for early hearing.
The divisive controversy, which broke out in the BJP-ruled southern state and rippled mildly to neighbouring states ahead of the assembly elections in five states, left its imprint on the pattern of appeals filed in the SC. If Naaz was the first to file the appeal against the Karnataka HC verdict, Hindu Sena through advocate Barun Kumar Sinha filed a caveat in the SC to stall any attempt by any appellant to take an ex parte stay on the HC judgment.
But with the bunch of petitions raising issues relating to “what constituted essential practices of religion” already referred to a nine-judge bench, which had on January 13, 2020 said that it would decide the larger issue of faith-based religious customs violating fundamental rights and lay down guidelines for judicial scrutiny of petitions raising issues related to the clash of faith with fundamental rights. The issues before the court were the entry of certain categories of women into Sabarimala temple, mosques and agiary of Parsis.
It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court refers the hijab issue as well to the nine-judge bench, in which case it would virtually go into cold storage that could help calm the frayed tempers of two communities.