The high court in Karnataka state has dismissed petitions challenging the hijab ban in class, concluding that the hijab "is not a part of essential religious practice".

Rights activists have voiced concerns that the ban could increase anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.
Rights activists have voiced concerns that the ban could increase anti-Muslim sentiment across the country. (AP)

An Indian court has upheld a ban on the hijab in class in the state of Karnataka, a ruling that could set a precedent for the rest of the country which has a big Muslim minority.

The high court in Karnataka state delivered the verdict on Tuesday after considering petitions filed by Muslim students challenging a government ban on hijabs that some schools and colleges have implemented in the last two months.

"We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice," Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the High Court of Karnataka said in the judgement.

He said the government had the power to prescribe uniform guidelines, dismissing various petitions challenging the order.

Ahead of the verdict, the Karnataka government banned large gatherings for a week in state capital Bengaluru “to maintain public peace and order” and declared a holiday on Tuesday in schools and colleges in Udupi.

The dispute has led to criticism that Muslims in the country are being further marginalised.

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'A fundamental right'

The dispute began in January when a government-run school in Karnataka’s Udupi district barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims who said they were being deprived of their fundamental rights to education and religion.

That led to counterprotests by Hindu students wearing saffron shawls, a color closely associated with that religion and favored by Hindu nationalists.

More schools in the state followed with similar bans and the state’s top court disallowed students from wearing hijab and any religious clothing pending a verdict.

Students who had challenged the ban in court had said wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under India's constitution and an essential practice of Islam.

Muslims make up 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people. The hijab has historically been neither prohibited nor limited in public spheres. Women donning the headscarf is common across the country, which has religious freedom enshrined in its national charter with the secular state as a cornerstone.

Some rights activists have voiced concerns that the ban could increase anti-Muslim sentiment. 

Violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Hindu nationalist party, which also governs Karnataka state.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies