Indian Muslims are worried that the ruling could set a precedent for the rest of the country.

After months of controversy over the hijab ban in India, the High Court of Karnataka dismissed the petitions filed by Muslim girls in Udupi, who had sought the right to wear hijab in classrooms.

The High Court stated that wearing the hijab (Muslim headscarf) is not an essential practice in Islam and that freedom of religion under Article 25 of the constitution is subjected to reasonable restrictions.

The bench also said that students cannot object to uniforms that educational institutions have prescribed as it falls under the category of reasonable restrictions.

The verdict has been criticised widely by Muslims, especially Muslim women on social media platforms, who feel that the judgment will further alienate Muslims in India.

Aliya Assadi, a 17-year-old who studies in a Pre-University (PU) college in Udipi and one of the petitioners of the hijab row controversy, feels disheartened by the court's ruling.

“The verdict is shocking for us as we had high hopes and trust in the judiciary,'' she told TRT World, adding that it “has broken us inside”.

Assadi said if the hijab was not an essential part of the Islamic religion, students wouldn’t have struggled for it and compromised their studies.

“As a girl I know how it is going to affect most of [our] education as many of us have no choice but to quit studies then,” she said, adding it is her personal choice to follow her religion.

She said that they are going to fight for it until they get justice.

Karnataka’s hijab controversy began in January when a government-run school in the Udupi district barred female students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms, triggering protests by Muslims and counter-protests by far-right Hindu students.

In September, a petition claimed discrimination by teachers after the college authorities issued guidelines for uniform civil code. In January, the girls protested and filed a petition in Karnataka High Court challenging their college’s decision.

Assadi and her friends have not attended classes since December. Most colleges are holding examinations this month.

According to Zam Zam, the Vice President of Campus Front of Uddipi, hijab-wearing students were not allowed to sit their recent practical examinations.

President of the Campus Front of India, MS Sajid, tweeted: “Karnataka HC denies the constitutional rights of the citizens. We never accept the verdict that stands against the constitution and will continue the fight against the attempts to suppress individual rights. We appeal to the secular-minded to join this constitutional fight.”

After the verdict, protests have been reported in Chennai and Bengaluru.  

Hiba Sheik, 18, who studies in a college in Mangalore, said that their rights were violated through the verdict. She said that she is not going to attend classes without a hijab.

“We will continue our struggle in a legal and democratic way,” Sheik said.

Sheik emerged as one of the faces of Muslim women for the fight for hijab recently after she confronted a right-wing Hindu youth group who "harassed" her by disallowing Sheik to attend exams with her hijab on.

The students were part of Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (APVP), an outfit affiliated with the ruling BJP government.

Sheik has since been harassed by right-wingers who also filed a First Hand Information Report (FIR)' against her. She has even received death threats through messages.

“I had earlier filed a complaint against those male students, but then a Hindu female student accused me of threatening her. She was not even present at the spot,” she said.

Sheik said since then she has been facing all sorts of intimidation.

"This is affecting my education. I have exams tomorrow and I'm not sure whether I would be given permission to attend classes," she said.

The verdict has disappointed many Muslim women in India who think the hijab ban might be followed by other states as well.

Many Muslim organisations have called for a Karnataka bandh [strike] on March 17 over the High Court's decision.

Muslims account for about 13 percent of Hindu-majority India's 1.35 billion people.

"There is going to be a mass exclusion of Muslim women from education or even public  spaces," said Afreen Fatima, a student and Muslim activist.

She told TRT World that the verdict is going to be cited everywhere that the hijab is not an obligation for Muslim women, which she believes is a "gross misrepresentation of the Islamic faith."

Fatima said that It’s unacceptable that the court is interpreting religion for Muslims.

"It's also in line with the demand of BJP and the kind of agenda they have."

Saniya Sayed, 28, said that she doesn't wear hijab but knows its importance for those who wear it and its religious importance.

"The verdict is humiliating. In a way, you're deciding on a dress for women. It's not a gender issue but anti-Muslim rhetoric that's going on in India."

She said that Indian society has accepted diversity in culture and religion in the past but what now Muslims see day-to-day is a sad state of affairs.

"Now tomorrow they can ask women to not wear hijab in public places. They'll even have a problem with that," she said.

Source: TRT World