NEW DELHI (AP) — A recent court ruling upholding a ban on Muslim students wearing head coverings in schools has sparked criticism from constitutional scholars and rights activists who say that judicial overreach threatens religious freedoms in officially secular India.
Even though the ban is only imposed in the southern state of Karnataka, critics worry it could be used as a basis for wider curbs on Islamic expression in a country already witnessing a surge of Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party.
“With this judgment, the rule you are making can restrict the religious freedom of every religion,” said Faizan Mustafa, a scholar of freedom of religion and vice chancellor at the Hyderabad-based Nalsar University of Law. “Courts should not decide what is essential to any religion. By doing so, you are privileging certain practices over others.”
Supporters of the decision say it’s an affirmation of schools’ authority to determine dress codes and govern student conduct, and that takes precedence over any religious practice.
“Institutional discipline must prevail over individual choices. Otherwise, it will result in chaos,” said Karnataka Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, who argued the state’s case in court.
Before the verdict, more than 700 signatories including senior lawyers and rights advocates had expressed opposition to the ban in an open letter to the chief justice, saying that “the imposition of an absolute uniformity contrary to the autonomy, privacy and dignity of Muslim women is unconstitutional.”