A court in southern India on Tuesday upheld a ban on wearing hijabs or headscarves in schools and colleges, a decision that came after protests over the move.
The high court in Karnataka state said wearing the hijab was not an essential religious practice, and institutional discipline prevailed over individual choice, Karnataka advocate general, Prabhuling Navadgi, told reporters.
The ruling came as a setback to Muslim female students who had challenged the regional government’s ban on headscarves.
They plan to appeal against the verdict in India’s Supreme Court.
The controversy escalated after a group of hijab-wearing students were barred from entering a college in the Udupi district in December.
More schools and colleges also decided to ban the hijab in class later, sparking protests by Muslims against the ban and by Hindu students and right-wing activists supporting it.
Violence ensued at some protests, with demonstrators throwing stones and committing acts of arson in some towns and policemen responding with baton-charges.
The Karnataka High Court, which held hearings on the matter in February, passed interim orders disallowing students from wearing the hijab until it delivered a verdict.
The state government prohibited large gatherings for a week in the state capital, Bengaluru, to maintain public peace and order, domestic media reported.
Other cities like Mangalore and Udipi have banned large gatherings or declared a holiday in schools and colleges.
Muslims form about 14 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion. Hindus form the majority of the population.
The Karnataka government and the federal government are run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).