The Supreme Court Friday said it would protect the Constitutional rights of every citizen and take up at an “appropriate time” the pleas challenging a direction of the Karnataka High Court asking students not to wear any religious clothing in educational institutions, and emphasised that these issues should not “spread” at “national level”.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana was told by senior advocate Devdutt Kamat, appearing for the students, that the high court order has led to the 'suspension of fundamental right to practice religion under Article 25 of the Constitution' and the plea be listed for hearing on Monday. Refusing to list the plea on February 14 as sought by Kamat, the bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli, referred to the ongoing hearing of the case in the high court and said it will protect the fundamental right of every citizen and take up the matter at an “appropriate time”.
At the outset, Kamat said, “I am mentioning a fresh SLP against an interim order passed yesterday in the ‘hijab’ matter by the high court. I would say it is rather strange that the high court says that none of the students should disclose any religious identity when they go to school and college. It has far reaching implications not only for Muslim community but also for other faiths.”
He referred to Sikhs wearing turbans and said the high court, by an interim order, has directed all the students that they should go to educational institutions without disclosing religious identity. “Our respectful submissions are that this amounts to complete suspension of Article 25 (freedom to practice and propagate religion) as far as our clients are concerned. So kindly hear us on the interim arrangement,” Kamat said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Karnataka government, said the high court order has not even come out and this should have been pointed out. “The high court is already hearing this on an urgent basis. We do not know what the order is...Wait . Let us see,” the bench said.
All the schools and colleges have been closed, the lawyer said while insisting for an urgent hearing and added, “Whatever interim arrangements this court will decide will be acceptable to all of us”.
“I do not want to express anything. Do not spread these things to a larger level. This is what we want to say. Mr. Kamat, we are also watching. We also know what is happening in the state as well as in the hearing...and you also have to think over whether it is proper to bring those things to Delhi as a national level issue and all that,” the CJI observed.
When told that pure legal questions have emerged from the high court order, the bench said it will definitely examine if something has gone wrong. “Definitely, we will examine. Definitely, we will protect if there is something wrong. We have to protect the Constitutional right of everyone... Don’t go into the merits at this stage. Let us see. We will interfere at an appropriate time. We will take up at the appropriate time,” the bench said.
Earlier, the appeal was filed in the apex court challenging the direction of the Karnataka High Court that has asked students not to insist on wearing any religious clothing on campuses of educational institutions which can instigate people, till the matter is resolved. A three-judge bench of the Karnataka High court, hearing the 'hijab' issue on Thursday, asked students not to insist on wearing any cloth on campuses of educational institutions which can instigate people, till the matter is resolved.
The plea filed by a student has sought a stay on the direction of the high court as well as the proceedings going on before the three judge bench. The appeal contended that the high court has sought to curtail the fundamental right of Muslim student women by not allowing them to wear the hijab.The high court has posted the matter for Monday and also said educational institutions can resume classes.
The three-judge full bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, Justice J M Khazi and Justice Krishna S Dixit, which was formed on Wednesday, also said it wants the matter to be resolved at the earliest but till that time peace and tranquillity is to be maintained. "Till the disposal of the matter, you people should not insist on wearing all these religious things," Justice Awasthi had said.
"We will pass an order. Let the schools-colleges start. But till the matter is resolved, no student should insist on wearing religious dress", he had said.
On Wednesday, Justice Dixit, who was hearing the case, referred the case to Justice Awasthi's consideration with a view that a larger bench may look into the case. The controversy started towards the end of December when a few women students in hijabs were denied entry into a government pre-university college in Udupi. As a counter, some Hindu students turn up wearing saffron scarves.
The row spread to other educational institutions in different parts of the state, and the protests took a violent turn at some places earlier this week, prompting the government on Tuesday to declare a three-day holiday for the institutions.