NEW DELHI, Dec 22: In a significant move, the Karnataka government on Friday announced that it would soon withdraw the ban on wearing hijab. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said there was no effective hijab ban in the state, adding that women could “wear anything they want.”
“Hijab ban isn’t there anymore. (Women) can wear hijab and go anywhere. I have directed to withdraw the (ban) order. How you dress and what you eat is your choice. Why should I obstruct you?,” the chief minister said while addressing a gathering in Nanjangud in Mysuru district on Friday. Mr Siddaramaiah said the people in the state were free to wear and eat whatever they choose to. “Wear what you want. Eat what you want. I will eat what I want, you eat what you want. I wear dhoti, you wear pant shirt. What’s wrong in that?” he added. ‘’We will withdraw the hijab circular and there is no restriction and people can wear the dress of their choice,” he said.
The previous BJP government had in 2022 banned wearing hijab in educational institutions. The Department of Primary and Secondary Education had issued a circular banning hijab in schools and PU colleges which resulted in a political furore. There were protests for and against the move across the State by students’ groups as well, starting with a college in Udupi. After several students moved the court against the ban, the Karnataka High Court upheld the state’s ban, saying that wearing a hijab “is not an essential religious practice of Islam” and educational institutes can decide the dress code for all their students.
The matter went to the Supreme Court, which delivered a split verdict, with one judge maintaining that the state is authorised to enforce uniform in schools and the other describing hijab as a matter of choice and the issue is now pending before a larger bench.
Elaborating on the issue Mr Siddaramaiah said matters pertaining to food habits and dress were personal. ‘’I wear dhoti and someone else may wear pants and shirt. What is wrong in it?’’ questioned the Chief Minister and said that one should not politicise such issues for political gains.
Though the Congress had hinted that it would revoke the ban if voted to power in the run-up to the elections, it was the first time that the Chief Minister has said in public that the ban was being revoked. In June, after the Congress government was voted to power, Karnataka minister Priyank Kharge had said “any law” brought by the BJP government” which was deemed “regressive” would be repealed by the new state government. “Any regressive policy that impedes the growth of Karnataka economically and is going to take the state backwards will be reviewed and repealed if necessary,” the leader said hinting at the hijab ban and the controversial anti-cow slaughter bill.
In a quick response to Mr Siddaramaiah’s announcement, the BJP in its social media handle said the Chief Minister was “trying to sow the poison of religious bigotry in a harmonious society.” They argued that uniform ensures equality among students. The Chief Minister is “creating divisions,” the party alleged.