Mumbai students move HC over college ban on religious attire

The new rule requires students to wear formal and decent attire that does not reveal their religion

Representative image of Bombay High Court (photo: IANS)
Representative image of Bombay High Court (photo: IANS)

NH Digital

A group of nine students from a Mumbai college have approached the Bombay High Court to contest a directive imposing a restrictive dress code. The code bans garments that signify religious identity, including burqas, niqabs, hijabs, and caps.

The students, represented by advocate Altaf Khan, have challenged the notice issued by their college, which mandates adherence to a dress code that aims to eliminate visible religious symbols, law news website Bar and Bench reported.

The contentious notice, slated to take effect from the new academic year beginning in June 2024, stipulates that students must wear formal and decent attire that does not reveal their religion.

Specifically, boys are required to wear full or half shirts with normal trousers, while girls are instructed to wear non-revealing Indian or Western dresses. A changing room has been made available for girls. The guidelines were disseminated to second and third-year degree course students via WhatsApp by faculty members.

The students' plea argues that the college, affiliated with Mumbai University and aided by the State of Maharashtra, lacks the legal authority to enforce such a dress code. They claim that the directive is illegal, arbitrary, and unreasonable, infringing on their rights to privacy and freedom of religious expression.

The petition highlights that the wearing of naqab and hijab is an integral part of the petitioners' religious beliefs and personal choice. This legal challenge comes in the wake of a similar controversy that began in February 2022, when a government pre-university college in Udupi, Karnataka, banned the hijab inside classrooms.

This led to widespread protests by Muslim students asserting their right to wear the hijab, countered by protests from other students wearing saffron scarves.

The issue escalated to the courts, with the Karnataka High Court upholding the government order in March 2022, followed by a split verdict from the Supreme Court in October 2022. The final decision from the Supreme Court on the validity of the Karnataka order is still pending.

The division bench of justices AS Chandurkar and Rajesh Patil is expected to hear the plea from the Mumbai students on 18 June. The petitioners seek to have the college's notice quashed and set aside, asserting that it violates their constitutional rights and lacks a legal basis.

As the controversy continues, the outcome of this case could have significant implications for enforcing dress codes in educational institutions and balancing secular policies with individual religious freedoms.

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