PUCL Karnataka Towards civil liberties and human rights for all in Karnataka

PUCL condemns the Karnataka Government for abdicating its Constitutional responsibility to protect the right to education of Muslim girls

02.04.2022 · Posted in Uncategorized

PUCL is shocked at the continuing inaction on the part of the Karnataka Government and as well as the State Education Department failing to step in and put an end to the needless controversy at PU College in Kundapura around the right of Muslim women to attend college wearing the hijab. By their continued inaction, the Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues who have taken an oath to, ‘preserve protect and defend’ the Constitution have abdicated their constitutional responsibility. It bears restating that their constitutional oath is to ensure a secular administration and ensure that their administration does not discriminate against any person on grounds of religion. It behoves the government of Karnataka to act in accordance with constitutional morality and not discriminate against a particularly vulnerable minority, namely young Muslim girls. What is seared on our collective conscience is the image of brave Muslim women asserting their right to dignity in education and the equally shocking image of a school teacher shutting the gates of the college to its own students. The government must take responsibility and act to salvage its tattered image, which in the eyes of the world is that of a schoolyard bully, which stands by and denies girls the right to education rather than protecting and defending their constitutional rights.

The PUCL had in an earlier statement regarding a similar ban action by a Government PU College in Udupi, criticised the arbitrary action by the college authorities as violating fundamental constitutional rights, including the Right to Freedom of Religion (Art 25), the Right to Education (Art 21-A), Right to non-discrimination(Art 15 and Art 29(2)) and the right to dignity. (Article 21)

Even in this case, the same constitutional rights stand violated. The specific action of the PU College management stopping the girl students from entering the classrooms and college violates the right of Muslim girls to access learning without discrimination. Article 15(1) prohibits non-discrimination on the grounds of religion and sex. Article 29(2) specifically prohibits discrimination in state aided educational institutions on grounds of religion. The preventing of women in hijab from accessing education is at heart a discrimination based on religion. As interpreted by the Supreme Court, Article 21 guarantees the right to live with dignity. The prohibition of the use of the hijab violates the right to dignity of the Muslim women students as the dress is an intrinsic part of the expression of their identity as Muslim women. Article 21-A guarantees the right to education, and this prohibition of Muslim women from attending classes violates the right to education. Most importantly, Article 25 gives the freedom to practice, propagate and profess religion, and it is pertinent to note that the hijab is an essential aspect of the Islamic faith. The prohibition of wearing the hijab hits the constitutional guarantee under Article 25.

The other dimension that the women students themselves have exposed is the arbitrary nature of the action by college authorities. The students are reported to say, “We are students, we have been wearing the hijab to college for so long, but it has become an issue only now.” The fact that the hijab has suddenly become an issue only hints at the malafide and unconstitutional nature of the action, obviously undertaken under political pressures the school management was subjected to. The students have a legitimate expectation that they will be allowed to access education without discrimination and not be suddenly and arbitrarily prevented from attending classes that too just two months before the examination. This expectation has been belied.

The PUCL strongly condemns the college authorities’ cruel, heartless, arbitrary and unconstitutional action.

The PUCL demands that:

  • The Chief Minister must act quickly and decisively to rescind the decision of the two colleges and allow the students to attend classes as they were doing before a highly improper and unconstitutional action of preventing girl students from accessing education was undertaken.
  • An inquiry be undertaken into why the principals of the said colleges took such a sudden, arbitrary and unconstitutional action. Until the investigation is concluded, they must be placed under suspension.
  • The Karnataka Government must take adequate measures to strengthen a secular and non discriminatory learning environment within colleges, allowing students to express their faith and identity fully and ensure that such shocking violations do not recur.
  • The Human Rights Commission and Minority commission register suo moto complaints against the principal and management of the college for violating fundamental rights of the concerned students.
  • The Legal Services Authority must intervene in this matter and provide all legal assistance to the students to protect their constitutional rights

Adv. Arvind Narrain, President, PUCL-K

Adv. Robin Christopher, General Secretary, PUCL-K

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