The state’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that wearing the hijab is not “a core religious practice in the Islamic faith” and dismissed a number of petitions filed by Muslim students who have been denied access to classes at many schools and colleges across the state.
The Court also ruled that the requirement for students to wear school uniforms is “a reasonable restriction permitted by the constitution that students cannot object to.”
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai urged calm following the ruling, which officials feared could spark religious protests.
“I ask everyone to follow the ruling of the Supreme Court and maintain peace and order,” Bommai told reporters on Tuesday. “And let the kids go about their education as usual.”
The controversy erupted after students staged a small protest in January. demanding to be allowed in class in Islamic clothing.
The dispute was seen as a symbol of the aggravation of religious tensions in the state. where authorities ordered all high schools and colleges to close for several days to thwart protests in early February. Rallies in the state capital of Bangalore were also banned from educational institutions for two weeks.
Dozens of women from other Indian cities, including the capital Delhi, Hyderabad and Calcutta, also took to the streets in support of Muslim girls.
The state supported the hijab ban, citing a state mandate for religious dress.
But experts and activists say the hijab controversy goes deeper than the dress code, arguing that it is indicative of wider persecution of India’s Muslim minority since Modi’s BJP came to power almost eight years ago.
Karnataka, where only 13% of the population is Muslim, is run by the BJP, and the state has already passed a law that critics say favors Hindus.
Lawyer Mohammed Tahir, who represented one group of applicants in court, told CNN last month that Karnataka is a “hotbed” of the Hindutva ideology, which is supported by many right-wing groups that seek to make India a land of Hindus.
“We welcome the verdict. However, we have yet to establish his motives,” one of the girls’ lawyers, Shatabish Shivanna, told CNN. “We will talk to the applicants and then find out what remedies we want to use.”