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A top court in India’s southern state of Karnataka upheld a ban against the wearing of headscarves by Muslim students at schools, colleges and universities, a controversial verdict that risks worsening religious tensions in the Hindu-majority nation, CBS News reported.
The Karnataka High Court ruled that the hijab worn by Muslim women “does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith.”
The verdict came about two months after female Muslim students protested against the ban at a government-run college in the state. The six students were barred from entering classes because they were wearing the head coverings and were violating the school’s uniform rules.
The Karnataka state government later endorsed the ban with other schools and colleges in the state following suit.
The demonstrations soon turned into widespread protests, prompting authorities to shut down schools for a number of days. The issue also attracted international attention and condemnation, including by Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who urged India to “stop the marginalization of Muslim women.”
Meanwhile, the ban has ignited a national debate over the rights of Muslim women to wear the hijab in India, where the constitution grants all citizens the freedom to practice their chosen religion, with what it calls “reasonable restrictions.”
In its ruling, the high court said that enforcing school uniform rules was a reasonable restriction.
Muslim students said they will challenge the verdict at India’s Supreme Court but the issue has exacerbated religious divisions in the South Asian nation.
Since its independence more than 70 years ago, India has witnessed deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims, with its politics and society deeply divided along religious lines.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have also been accused of instigating anti-Muslim sentiment and backing violence against minorities.
Modi and his party have rejected the accusations.